The UFC returns to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for UFC 282 as they will crown a brand new undisputed light heavyweight champion when Jan Blachowicz takes on Magomed Ankalaev in the main event.
Originally a three-round co-main, former champion Jiri Prochazka was forced to withdraw from his rematch with Glover Teixeira and vacate his title after suffering a shoulder injury in training, which saw this fight bumped up to a title fight.
We’ll also see the UK’s own compete as Paddy Pimblett and Darren Till compete on the main card, while there is some deep prelim fights on the card too.
Bryce Mitchell (15-0) vs Ilia Topuria (12-0) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Arguably the fight of the night opens up the main card. Mitchell is a wrestling and submission specialist, undefeated professionally with decision wins over Charles Rosa, Andre Fili (UFC Vegas 12) and Edson Barboza in his last three. Topuria is a sensation too, also undefeated, with three consecutive KO wins against Damon Jackson (UFC Vegas 16), Ryan Hall (UFC 264) and a huge comeback against Jai Herbert last time out in London.
There may not be a more relentless and suffocating wrestler in the UFC than Mitchell, who grabs on to whatever he can get hold of and finds a away to take you to the mat. Once there he dominates the position and works for submissions, completely in control throughout. Topuria on the other hand is a stunning striker with great power and technique, but he is also a brilliant grappler himself with seven submission wins on his record. This is an incredible fight.
They are so well matched, both riding huge waves of momentum and both have pretty exciting styles. Both are supremely talented wherever this fight ends up, but Mitchell has fought the higher calibre of fighter. His win over Barboza is crazy good because he dominated on the feet and the mat and I’m not convinced Topuria is a better striker than Barboza is. With that said I’m leaning towards “Thug Nasty” to get the decision win, but don’t be surprised however this ends up. PICK – Bryce Mitchell via Decision
Darren Till (18-4-1) vs Dricus Du Plessis (17-2) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A huge fight in the middleweight division once more on this card. Till has lost four of his last five, starting with a title fight loss to Tyron Woodley. He also lost to Jorge Masvidal, Robert Whittaker (UFC Fight Island 3) and Derek Brunson, but claimed a decision win over Kelvin Gastelum in the middle of that run. Du Plessis is 3-0 in the UFC with wins over Markus Perez (UFC Fight Island 5), Trevin Giles (UFC 264) and most recently Brad Tavares.
Till is a pure striker, with an unorthodox karate stance to go with his Muay-Thai striking skills and great power and speed. He’s also a black belt in jiu-jitsu, although we’ve never seen why, and he’s been working his grappling with the incredible Khamzat Chimaev in recent months too so it’s likely improved. Du Plessis is also a brilliant striker, with fantastic power in his punches and kicks and a wildly aggressive style. He pushes a hard pace and looks to take his opponent’s head off with every strike. Till is without a doubt the best striker he has ever faced though.
There’s no doubting that Till’s back is against the wall here and he needs a win, and there is a great opportunity for him. Du Plessis’ aggression leaves him open to be hit a lot and if Till lands flush he has the power to put you out. His movement is good too and countering is his best weapon. So long as he’s as sharp as we know he can be, Till counters Du Plessis with that bomb of a left hand and gets a career-saving win. PICK – Darren Till via Knockout, Round 3
Alex Morono (22-7) vs Santiago Ponzinibbio (29-6) – (Catchweight/180lbs)
A short-notice catchweight bout up next. Morono is stepping in on a few days’ notice for Robbie Lawler while on a four-fight win streak, beating Matthew Semelsberger most recently at UFC 277. Ponzinibbio on the other hand has lost his last two, dropping razor thin decisions against Geoff Neal (UFC 269) and Michel Pereira most recently.
Morono is a power striker, who uses decent boxing combinations and a good mix of wrestling too to overwhelm his opponents with his cardio. Ponzinibbio is a sensational striker with excellent power in his hands and his kicks, as well as an iron chin and great combinations. The time away from the octagon saw Ponzinibbio lose his status as one of the guys, he’s still good enough to beat Morono for me.
Both of these guys will be amped, but the short-notice nature of it tells me Ponzinibbio will be able to push the pace more and try to overwhelm him with his pressure. If he can force Morono backwards against the cage and start throwing he should land enough and have enough moments to claim a win on the cards. PICK – Santiago Ponzinibbio via Decision
Paddy Pimblett (19-3) vs Jared Gordon (19-5) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
A banger in the co-main event in the lightweight division. Pimblett has taken the UFC by storm since arriving, going 3-0 with three finishes against Luigi Vendramini, Kazula Vargas and Jordan Leavitt most recently. Gordon on the other hand has won four of his last five, losing to Grant Dawson via submission before bouncing back last time out with a decision win over Leonardo Santos.
Pimblett is a wild man, with fantastic ground skills when it comes to his jiu-jitsu and his submission skills, but his striking is decent too and he possesses good power. Gordon is a well-rounded fighter too with an excellent ground game himself, but he prefers to stand and strike and string combinations together. This is Pimblett’s biggest test to date in the UFC and this is not a gimme fight by any means.
On the feet I would say that Gordon has the edge. Pimblett is wild and leaves himself open to being clipped regularly sometimes, but when it comes to the ground Pimblett is the man with the advantage. He’s aggressive on the mat for submissions, his sweeps are excellent if he ends up on the bottom and he’s relentless when it comes to pressure. I don’t think Pimblett can secure the finish here, but he should be able to get enough control time on the mat and land enough on the feet to get another win. PICK – Paddy Pimblett via Decision
Jan Blachowicz (29-9) vs Magomed Ankalaev (18-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
Big time light heavyweight title fight up next in the main event. Blachowicz bounced back from losing the title to Glover Teixeira at UFC 267 with a win over Aleksandar Rakic in May, while Ankalaev extended his winning streak to nine in a row when he beat Anthony Smith via TKO back at UFC 277.
Blachowicz is a well-rounded fighter with fantastic power in his hands, but it’s his grappling where he really excels as he looks to use his size to wrestle opponents and control them on the mat. Ankalaev is a stunning striker with brilliant kickboxing skills, and his Dagestani background also means that he is a superb wrester and a master of Sambo fighting. Neither of these guys are particularly quick and their knockout power is prevalent but not their only route to victory.
It’s an interesting bout to analyse, but it would be very surprising if Ankalaev doesn’t claim the belt at this point in his career. He’s the better striker on the feet, his grappling is as good and he matches up well for size too, so it’s hard to see where Blachowicz can get the win. With that said, I’ve been wrong on Blachowicz before, but I expect a bit of a masterclass here from Ankalaev on the feet to claim a lopsided decision win. PICK – Magomed Ankalaev via Decision
Eryk Anders (14-6) vs Junyong Park (13-5) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
An interesting middleweight scrap opens up the main card here. Anders picked up a big win over Darren Stewart back at UFC 263, but then had his arm ripped off by Andre Muniz at UFC 269 in no time at all last time out. Park picked up a good win over Tafon Nchukwi at UFC Vegas 10, before getting stopped by Gregory Rodrigues in the second round in his last bout.
Anders is a solid wrestler with some good straight punches, but his durability in the past has been questioned and his cardio has never been the greatest. Park is a super steady fighter with a solid all-round game, although none of his attributes really stand out among others. This is likely to be a pretty steady fight with both guys waiting for the other to move first.
Because of that, I expect Park’s fundamentals to get him the win. He has good variety in his attacks, has good wrestling and his straight cardio usually holds up so expect him to pick up an underwhelming decision victory. PICK – Junyong Park via Decision
Polyana Viana (12-4) vs Tabatha Ricci (6-1) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
Strawweights go head-to-head in this main card scrap. Viana snapped a three fight losing streak when she submitted Emily Whitmire via first-round armbar at UFC Vegas 8, then did the same to Mallory Martin in her last bout at UFC 258 too. Ricci got stopped in her UFC debut by Manon Fiorot at UFC Vegas 28, but got back in the win column against Maria Oliveira at UFC Vegas 41.
Viana is an excellent grappler with brilliant submissions off her back and on top, while her striking is pretty solid too earning her four knockout wins in the past. Ricci will walk forward to try and blitz strikes before clinching and looking for a takedown herself, so where this bout ends up will be pivotal to the result. Whoever is on top will have the greater success, with both women Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts.
Ricci’s awkward striking makes me lean towards Viana though. Viana has a big size advantage for height and reach, but she does struggle technically with her striking. But the size should be enough to avoid any strikes and clinches with the judoka and lots of scrambles, but I think Viana should be able to get on top and control position enough for a win. PICK – Polyana Viana via Decision
Chidi Njokuani (21-7) vs Dusko Todorovic (11-2) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Another middleweight scrap here between two guys who know how to bang. Njokuani is on a three-fight win streak including a violent knockout win over Marc-Andre Barriault in just 16 seconds back in February. Todorovic snapped a two-fight losing skid with a first-round knockout win over Maki Pitolo in his last bout back at UFC Vegas 44.
Njokuani is a powerhouse with fantastic hand speed and great striking, while he has got decent wrestling in his back pocket too. Todorovic is a former Serbian grappling world champion, but loves to step forward and use his kickboxing although his defensive striking is pretty poor. Todorovic tends to stand up straight and with Njokuani’s hand speed, that makes the target bigger and easier to hit.
Both of these fighters are strong in the stand up and steady in the grappling, able to mix it up well so where this fight goes will be interesting. But with that said, the lack of head movement from Todorovic and his willingness to move backwards will open up the chance for ‘Bang Bang’ to land a nasty combination that turns the lights out. PICK – Chidi Njokuani via Knockout, Round 2
Santiago Ponzinibbio (29-5) vs Michel Pereira (27-11) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Fight of the night, bar none, without question. Ponzinibbio once upon a time was a serious contender at welterweight, but a long injury layoff saw him miss several years and he’s returned to mixed fortunes. He was flatlined by Li Jingliang at UFC Fight Island 7, before earning a brilliant win over Miguel Baeza at UFC Vegas 28. Last time out though, he was beaten by Geoff Neal at UFC 269. Pereira on the other hand is on a four-fight win streak, with impressive decision wins against Niko Price (UFC 264) and Andre Fialho (UFC 270) most recently.
Ponzinibbio is a stud striker with great boxing and superb power in his hands, while his kicks are among the best in the division even today. Pereira is one of the wildest fighters in UFC history, pulling off capoeira techniques including back flips and spinning attacks to go with his incredible dynamic power and excellent grappling. This fight has got fireworks written all over it.
Pereira will likely lean on his grappling in this fight quite heavily, because a firefight with Ponzinibbio is a huge risk he just doesn’t have to take. After a few initial blitzes and exchanges, expect Pereira to change levels and get a takedown to control him on the ground in order to save his energy for any blitzes that he needs in the latter rounds. PICK – Michel Pereira via Submission, Round 3
Holly Holm (14-5) vs Ketlen Vieira (12-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Main event time as the former champion returns to the cage. Holm has won her last two, defeating Raquel Pennington and Irene Aldana via decision but hasn’t fought since October 2020. Vieira on the other hand picked up a huge win over Miesha Tate back in Novemeber to put her name firmly on the map, claiming a unanimous decision win.
Holm is one of the best pure strikers in women’s MMA history, using a karate style and kickboxing skills that secured her several world championships outside of the UFC. Her kicks are remarkable and her footwork excellent, but her volume is sometimes lacking and her power isn’t what it once was. Vieira on the other hand has shown great improvement in her striking recently, but it’s the grappling where her bread gets buttered and she will be looking to get this fight to the ground ASAP.
Vieira absolutely needs this fight on the mat to win. Holm is so good with her striking and movement that she can piece her up on the feet, and her defensive grappling has been solid in the past. But Vieira is the best grappler she’s faced probably and it’ll be tough, especially now that she’s 40. With that said, her style suits this match up favourably and she should claim a decision win quite comfortably. PICK – Holly Holm via Decision
Fast paced start to this fight as Robertson looks to take the centre and attempts a couple of takedowns early. Cachoeira defends them well and is starting to land some decent strikes on the feet, landing good jabs and starting to do damage. Robertson suddenly changes levels in the centre though and scores a nice takedown before looking to secure a kimura lock. She transitions into side control and then full mount and starts raining down huge elbows! Cachoeira is in danger and Robertson switches to the back and gets a choke in under the neck. Cachoeira tries to defend it by sticking her thumb in Robertson’s eye but she refuses to let it go and then gets the tap with one second left! What a performance!
Tony Kelley def Randy Costa via Knockout, Round 2 (2:15)
Very fast start from Kelley who steps forward immediately and starts chasing Costa across the cage looking to land big shots. Costa trying to weather the storm and countering with his jab, but Kelley continuing to come forward aggressively. Clinch against the cage and Kelley is trying to wear on Costa early, landing some nice knees but Costa seemingly the stronger fighter physically. Kelley switching stances as he throws his combinations and Costa is struggling to make reads, before they clinch up against the cage once again and tangle until the end of the round. 10-9 Kelley.
Another fast start from Kelley as he comes forward quickly again and starts the clinch battles again once again. Costa looks a little fatigued but he’s defending himself well and and staying in it. Costa starting to land his jabs well but Kelley closing the distance and making this fight ugly. Costa lands a nice kick and follows it up with a short right hand that hurts Kelley, but he clinches up quickly and starts defending. Kelley gets him in a Thai clinch and lands some big knees to the body and Costa drops to his knees! Kelley battering the body and thrashing elbows onto Costa who’s just trying to defend himself now. Kelley going for the finish and the referee steps in! What a performance from Kelley.
Ryan Hall def Darrick Minner via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x2, 29-27)
Tactical start to the fight from both guys here as Minner lands a couple of leg kicks and misses wildly with some big strikes. Hall very patient and lands a nice body kick and then Hall shoots for the legs. Lots of transitions and rolling for submissions but Minner defending against the kneebars and heel hook attempts well. Minner gets back to the feet and lands a big right hand that cracks Hall who starts to retreat. Hall starts to go for a takedown again and ends up in top position landing some decent ground and pound to end the round. 10-9 either way, but I lean to Hall just.
Hall coming out more aggressive now as he starts swinging kicks, before Minner lands a nice right hand and gets a takedown as Hall goes for a leg. Minner in Hall’s full guard and looking for ground and pound, but Hall is looking to throw up an armbar or triangle submission. Minner stands up and slams Hall down to escape it and goes back for ground and pound. Hall throws up another triangle and it’s tight and he starts throwing big elbows from his back but Minner surviving. Hall looks to advance to a straight armbar but Minner denies it and then he rolls to an omoplata attempt and ends the round with ground and pound. 20-18 Hall.
Final round and Hall rolls under a punch and secures a triangle attempt immediately from his back. Minner defends it well but Hall then switches and is able to get on top. He advances to full mount and is in complete control here, looking for an arm triangle.
Erin Blanchfield def Miranda Maverick via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Good start to the bout for Maverick as she steps forward aggressively and throws a few strong strikes. Maverick looks to step in with a right hand but Blanchfield ducks under and immediately has a body lock from the back. She maintains the lock and continuously forces Maverick to the ground with excellent wrestling. She moves to full guard and maintains position again, dragging Maverick to the mat every time she tries to get back to the feet. 10-9 Blanchfield.
Maverick starts up well with a little blitz but immediately Blanchfield is able to hip throw her and end up on top. Blanchfield quickly transitions to a crucifix position and starts blasting elbows down on Maverick, but she manages to just about escape as Blanchfield switches to an armbar attempt. Maverick just about defends but Blanchfield then goes for a kimura, but Maverick defends it well. Blanchfield switches to another armbar attempt but Maverick defends it by scissoring the head of her and the buzzer goes. 20-18.
Final round and Maverick is trying to go for a finish because she knows she needs it, but Blanchfield is landing well too. Clinch up against the cage and then Blanchfield catches a leg and moves straight into a takedown. She moves into top control and looks to dominate again and starts landing some big shots from mount. She controls the rest of the round from the top and claims a dominant decision win.
Andre Muniz def Eryk Anders via Submission (Armbar), Round 1 (3:13)
Good start to the fight for Anders as he takes the centre and starts to throw powerful strikes early. Muniz does well and throws a nice calf kick before throwing a short left hook. Anders goes for a right hand again and Muniz ducks under and changes levels with a big takedown. Muniz looks to pass from side control straight into mount but Anders defends it well. Anders gets to his feet but Muniz has a body lock and drags him back down after a bit of back and forth and takes the back. He threatens with a choke and then switches to an armbar attempt and forces the tap from Anders. What a performance.
Bruno Silva def Jordan Wright via Knockout, Round 1 (1:28)
Crazy start to this fight as Wright charges forward and looks to engage quickly with hard strikes. Wright continues to come forward and attack and he hurts Silva! They clinch up and Wright lands some big knees but Silva lands some big strikes too. They separate and Silva lands two huge blows and Wright is wobbled! Silva goes for the finish and drops him! Some huge shots and the referee steps in! What a KO by Silva!
Tai Tuivasa def Augusto Sakai via Knockout, Round 2 (0:26)
Slow and steady start so far with Tuivasa in the centre stalking Sakai, who’s throwing leg kicks and circling on the outside. Tuivasa goes for a nice combination and Sakai retreats, before they clinch up and Sakai lands a nice knee to the body. More knees to the body from Sakai as he holds Tuivasa close to him, before they separate and Tuivasa just misses with a big uppercut. Sakai landing heavy knees and hurting Tuivasa, but he then retaliates with a big right hand and forces Sakai to cover up before they clinch again to end the round. 10-9 Sakai, but Tuivasa looking dangerous too.
Second round and Tuivasa lands a huge left hook early and Sakai is rocked! Tuivasa steps forward and goes for the kill, landing huge hooks as Sakai tries to cover up. Another huge strike and Sakai is out coldddd! What a KO!
Dominick Cruz def Pedro Munhoz via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Good start to this fight as both guys look to take the centre and trade leg kicks and movement. Munhoz throwing hard low kicks but Cruz making him miss big. Munhoz throwing bombs but only just missing and Cruz is doing well to land blitzes and flurries of strikes. Cruz goes for a big right hand and Munhoz lands first with a big left hand that drops him! Munhoz lands a huge left hook and goes for the finish but Cruz grabs a leg and somehow survives. He gets up and continues the pattern of the earlier fight. 10-9 Munhoz.
Second round and Munhoz coming forward again and looking for his big bombs. Cruz using his excellent footwork well again though and is using his speed brilliantly. Cruz throwing great combinations on the feet and Munhoz is eating shots, but there isn’t enough power in them to hurt him. Cruz throws a hard low kick that hurts Munhoz and continues to throw his strikes brilliantly. 19-19.
Final round and Cruz has definitely taken over now with his speed and footwork. Cruz has made his reads now and is landing his combinations well, but Munhoz is throwing powerful strikes back and just barely missing. Cruz lands a big one-two clean down the pipe and Munhoz is starting to back up a little. Munhoz lands some nice jabs but Cruz is too slick and is moving so well, throwing leg kicks and left hands. Cruz lands a big combo in the centre as the round comes to an end and that should be the comeback victory for him. 29-28 Cruz.
Josh Emmett def Dan Ige via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x2, 30-27)
Nothing happens between these two in the opening minute and them Emmett explodes with a massive overhand right that drops Ige! Emmett goes down for a finish but Ige recovers quickly and starts to wrestle. Both guys scramble well and end up back to their feet where they separate. Ige taking the centre now and using his jab well and sees out the round relatively comfortably. 10-9 Emmett most likely for the knockdown, but could go either way in honesty.
Emmett comes out with a big right hand early once again but Ige takes it and continues to come forward. Good exchanges on the feet and Ige landing his jab well with movement and power. Emmett looking for one big shot but he keeps missing it. Ige replies with a big strikes and wobbles Emmett with a big left hook. He stays patient and Emmett eventually recovers. Ige staying so calm though and using that jab well again, circling on the outside and threatening then ending the round with a big right straight. 19-19, Ige round.
Final round and Ige takes the centre once again, looking to use that jab and counter with his left hook. Emmett still looking for the power right hand but Ige seems to have him scouted now. Emmett steps forward and throws a straight right down the middle and wobbles Ige but he recovers very quickly and circles out. Ige lands his jab over and over, but Emmett is being more aggressive and coming forward. Both guys are missing with big shots as we enter the final minute. Emmett ducks under a big head kick but then eats a big uppercut. Both guys throw a final flurry, but that’s a super tough fight to call. Great fight.
Sean O’Malley def Raulian Paiva via Knockout, Round 1 (4:42)
Composed start to this fight from both guys as Paiva looks for an early takedown attempt but O’Malley sidesteps him into the cage. Body kick grazes the cup of Paiva and causes a short pause in the action. Paiva throws a hard low kick that gets a reaction, before O’Malley steps in with a hard straight left hand. Paiva trying to apply pressure but O’Malley moving well and avoids a leg kick then lands two left jabs and a big right hand behind it. O’Malley steps well to his right and lands a huge right hand that wobbles Paiva! He stays composed and lands a beautiful combination that hurts him badly! Huge body shot and hook combo drops Paiva and the referee steps in, huge win for O’Malley! Amazing!
Kai Kara-France def Cody Garbrandt via Knockout, Round 1 (3:21)
Lots of range finding in the opening minute of this fight as Garbrandt finds himself with his back against the cage circling, throwing some loose kicks. Kara-France just misses with a big overhand right and then just avoids a big right-hook from Garbrandt. Kara-France lands a big right hand that flattens Garbrandt! A big follow up shot drops him again but Garbrandt retreats and eggs him on, but he’s clearly hurt! Kara-France staying patient and then he lands a stunning combination that ends with a massive uppercut and Garbrandt is out! Kara-France lands a couple of strikes before Herb Dean steps in, but that’s that! What a KO!
Geoff Neal def Santiago Ponzinibbio via Split Decision (28-29, 30-27, 29-28)
Steady start to the fight for Neal with plenty of bouncing on his toes and throwing his jab and some leg kicks, forcing Ponzinibbio backwards. Both guys trade leg kicks and are starting to try and hold their ground in the centre. Neal lands a nice high kick and the referee warns both fighters about having their fingers out. A few short strikes each but not much damage so far. Neal using his jab well and both guys exchange before an accidental low kick from Neal causes a pause. They get back to it and Ponzinibbio lands a huge one-two right on the buzzer to end the round. 10-9 Neal for me.
More active start to the round as Ponzinibbio comes forward with a hard low kick and some straight right hands. Big one-two from Ponzinibbio down the middle to counter Neal’s leg kick and then a short right hand from Neal lands too. Ponzinibbio changes levels and blasts a takedown before Neal sweeps him to get back to his feet nearly immediately. Hard left hand lands from Neal, but Ponzinibbio lands a nice left jab-right hand. Neal lands a hard right hand but then eats a big leg kick in return, before a one-two of his own down the middle into the final minute of the round. Neal lands a big shot and Ponzinibbio claims it was a finger but the referee says no. They stare at each other and then trade a couple of strikes before the round ends. 19-19.
Final round and Ponzinibbio lands a right hand before Neal lands a left. More exchanges in the centre and Neal lands a hard right hook that wobbles Ponzinibbio but he recovers quickly and lands a hard low kick. Neal starting to come forward and throws his left hand before a left high kick that just misses. Right hand gets a reaction from Ponzinibbio again, but then he lands a hard low kick to get Neal to back up. Hard left hand from Neal lands but Ponzinibbio replies with a solid right hook himself. Hard low kick and Neal steps backwards, but then he counters another attempt with a right hand. Neal coming on strong with jabs but Ponzinibbio continues to come forward too. Neal lands a big three-punch combo with the left hand and Ponzinibbio is wobbled! Final 30 seconds and Ponzinibbio just misses with a right hand to end the fight. Good fight. 29-28 Neal for me.
Nunes opens up with a hard low kick that drops Pena immediately. Nunes lets her up and kicks the leg again, before Pena tries to throw a small flurry. Nunes throws a right hand that drops Pena and then she eventually drops on top of her looking to control on the ground. Nunes looks to transition to the back for a rear-naked choke but Pena just about defends it, before Nunes gets back to top position. Pena threatens with a kimura from the bottom but Nunes stays patient, defends it and sees the round out on top. 10-9 champ.
Nunes takes the centre and she starts looking for huge strikes early doors but Pena isn’t going anywhere. Pena is landing her jab at will and Nunes is getting hurt! Nunes trying to slug it out but she’s slow and looks exhausted already. Pena keeps coming and is smashing Nunes up! Big strikes from Pena and Nunes is rocked! Pena goes for a takedown and immediately goes to the back and locks up a choke! NUNES TAPS! NUNES TAPS! AND NEWWWW!!!
Charles Oliveira def Dustin Poirier via Submission (Rear-naked choke), Round 3 (1:02)
Fast paced start to the fight as Oliveira looks to take the centre and land body shots and his jab, but Poirier lands a right hand that knocks Oliveira off balance. Oliveira lands a big strike of his own and backs Poirier up and then he clinches looking for knees. Poirier getting kicked in the body and firing back with big combinations and drops Oliveira again. He lands a huge shot on the ground but Oliveira ties him up and then Poirier stands them up again immediately. Body work from Oliveira again is affecting Poirier and the rounds ends. Wow. 10-9 Poirier.
Huge start to the second round again as the frantic pace starts again and Oliveira immediately goes in for a takedown against the cage. He drags Poirier to the ground but as he tries to escape Oliveira takes the back. Poirier tries to escape but Oliveira holds his arm in place and illegally holds the glove before rolling into full guard. He lands some huge, thudding elbows as Poirier looks to defend off his back. Oliveira absolutely dominant with pressure and elbows but Poirier survives. 19-19.
Oliveira comes out fast once again and shoots in for a takedown and immediately transitions to a body lock from behind. He drags Poirier down and then jumps on to his back, sinking in hooks and looking for a standing rear-naked choke. Poirier defending the hands but Oliveira continues to switch the grips, sinks in the choke and forces the tap! Amazing!! What a fight!
Raulian Paiva (21-3) vs Sean O’Malley (14-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
An absolute banger in the bantamweight division to open the main card. Paiva is on a three-fight win streak in the UFC thanks to victories over Mark De la Rosa, Zhalgas Zhumagulov and most recently Kyler Phillips at UFC Vega 32. O’Malley bounced back from his only career defeat against Marlon Vera after a leg injury to earn back-to-back highlight reel KO’s against Thomas Almeida at UFC 260 and Kris Moutinho at UFC 264.
Paiva is a well-rounded fighter with good striking technique and decent takedowns to earn top control. O’Malley on the other hand is a specialist striker with legitimate one-punch power. He’s also a very skilled jiu-jitsu grappler, it’s just not something he needs to use much because of how good his striking is. ‘Suga’ is excellent and changing angles and mixing up his attacks with kicks and punches and to the head and body.
O’Malley has a big height and reach advantage, has a clear power advantage in the striking battle, is the better grappler of the two and is on an upwards trajectory. Paiva has a chance if he checks kicks and can get top position, but realistically I expect O’Malley to put his lights out after putting on a show yet again. PICK – Sean O’Malley via Knockout, Round 2
Kai Kara-France (22-9) vs Cody Garbrandt (12-4) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A former champion debuts in a new weight class in this one. Kai Kara-France welcomes Garbrandt to the division on a 2-2 run. He was submitted by Brandon Royval at UFC 253 but bounced back with a KO win over Rogerio Bontorin at UFC 259. Garbrandt has lost four of his last five at bantamweight, with a KO win over Raphael Assuncao at UFC 250 sandwiched between two losses to TJ Dillashaw, Pedro Munhoz and most recently Rob Font.
Kara-France is a well skilled all-rounder, with good boxing combinations and power mixed in with decent wrestling and good kicks. He’ll have a reach advantage over Garbrandt, who is a great boxer with tremendous one-punch power and good wrestling too. This is a really even match up because Kara-France’s abilities are similar to that of Font, who beat Garbrandt last time out.
If Garbrandt is to win he needs to use his power strikes and wrestling, much like he tried to do against Font too. He has the speed to match up with Kara-France and the power to end the fight in one shot, but with the reach advantage on ‘Dont Blink’s side he could land first in any exchanges. Ultimately, the big experience factor and power edge leans me towards picking ‘No Love’, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go the other way. PICK – Cody Garbrandt via Knockout, Round 2
Geoff Neal (13-4) vs Santiago Ponzinibbio (29-4) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Banger at welterweight up next between two guys who are desperate to get a win and get back up the rankings. Neal has lost his last two, getting taken the distance by Stephen Thompson at UFC Vegas 17 and then Neil Magny at UFC Vegas 26. Ponzinibbio on the other hand returned from a long lay-off to get KO’d by Li Jingliang at UFC Fight Island 7 before earning a big decision win over Miguel Baeza at UFC Vegas 28.
Neal is a solid southpaw striker with genuine knockout power and some good wrestling skills in his back pocket too. Ponzinibbio is a top level boxer with good power, but injuries have taken their toll on his career to date. Neal’s best attacks are his straight left hand and left kick, which will be wide open against the orthodox Ponzinibbio.
Ponzinibbio will need to establish range and use pressure to force longer striking exchanges, where his superior boxing skills and combinations can land and cause damage. Neal is likely to stall the fight in those instances with clinches to stop any momentum, and land that body kick and left hand. I don’t think this one ends early and it’ll be razor close throughout 15 minutes, but with Neal looking gun shy in his last two bouts I think Ponzinibbio will be able to be busier to claim a win. PICK – Santiago Ponzinibbio via Decision
Amanda Nunes (21-4) vs Julianna Pena (11-4) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
The women’s G.O.A.T makes her return to the bantamweight division for the first time in two years. Nunes is on a UFC-high 12-fight win streak, with her last two wins coming at featherweight against Felicia Spencer and Megan Anderson at UFC 259. Pena on the other hand has just two wins since 2017, beating Sara McMann at UFC 257 to claim this title shot against her long-time rival.
Nunes is the best ever for a reason. She has abnormal punching power on the feet, is a tremendous boxer with great combinations and has the ability to wrestle and submit opponents with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to her name too. Pena on the other hand is a jiu-jitsu fighter with good wrestling herself and she looks to secure top position and work from there.
This fight is only happening because Nunes needs to defend her belt and Pena just keeps saying her name out loud. ‘Lioness’ has the advantage in every single aspect of this fight and it’s really up to her how she wants to finish this one. I think Nunes blitzes her early to make a statement and claims a vicious KO victory early doors. PICK – Amanda Nunes via Knockout, Round 1
Charles Oliveira (31-8) vs Dustin Poirier (28-6) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Without a doubt my favourite fight of the year, and it’s for the lightweight championship of the world. Oliveira is on an amazing nine-fight win streak which includes a dominant win over Tony Ferguson at UFC 256 before winning the belt by knocking out Michael Chandler at UFC 262. Poirier on the other hand bounced back from defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov in his first undisputed title shot back at UFC 242 to defeat Dan Hooker in a war at UFC Vegas 4 before back-to-back stoppage wins over Conor McGregor at UFC 257 and UFC 264.
Oliveira is a scarily good all-rounder, with the most submission wins in UFC history to add to some new-found striking credentials that have seen him generate fight-ending power. Poirier is one of the best boxers in the UFC with brilliant cardio, great power in both hands and a good wrestling game too. This is such a good fight, because both fighters excel everywhere but are at their most comfortable in different places.
If Oliveira is to be successful, he needs to make this a grappling match. Much like against Ferguson, he can take the fight down and use his amazing jiu-jitsu to secure a submission win or control for long periods. While the fight is on the feet though, Poirier is the man in the driving seat. His takedown defence is good and his ability to mix up his attacks stand him in good stead, because Oliveira won’t hide from the striking exchanges. Because of that I think Poirier keeps the fight standing for long periods, does damage with his combinations before eventually earning a stoppage at some point in the championship rounds to finally become champion. PICK – Dustin Poirier via Knockout, Round 4
Claudio Puelles def Jordan Leavitt via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Interesting start to the fight as both men trade leg kicks and body kicks before Leavitt changes levels and shoots in for a takedown. Puelles immediately rolls through to try and reverse but Leavitt holds onto the single leg and forces a scramble for the position. Neither men give anything up and eventually Leavitt is able to get into the guard but only for a few seconds before Puelles kicks him off. Leavitt doesn’t let go and tries to hold him down again but Puelles is eventually able to get back to the feet where they trade leg kicks again. Puelles shoots in for a takedown this time but Leavitt defends it pretty well before Puelles gets into his guard with about 40 seconds left. Neither fight lands any real offence as the round comes to an end. 10-9 Leavitt probably.
Second round more of the same early on from both guys with a few rangy kicks before Leavitt shoots in for a single leg takedown again. Puelles defends it well once again and manages to reverse to end up on Leavitt’s back, but he’s able to reverse into a kneebar attempt to escape and ends up with Puelles in his guard again. Puelles stands up and avoids an up-kick before landing a big left hand as Leavitt looks to get back up and they end up on the ground once again. Puelles looks to take the back and starts throwing a few strikes to free it up but Leavitt is defending faitly well. Puelles locks in a body triangle with 30 seconds to go but nothing else happens and the round ends. 19-19.
Puelles opens up the round with a takedown early on this time and he gets it easily, with Leavitt pretty content to work from his back currently. Leavitt tries to scramble back to his feet but Puelles doing really well to shut it down and starts landing some ground and pound too. Position over submission for Puelles so far but Leavitt is trying to get up again and goes for an inverted triangle but Puelles avoids it pretty easily. Puelles in the north-south position but not doing enough so the referee stands them up with 90 seconds to go, only for Puelles to score an instant takedown once they resume. A bit of ground and pound but nothing crazy and Puelles should waltz to the victory 29-28.
Sean Woodson def Youssef Zalal via Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Fast paced start to this one as Woodson takes the centre and looks to pump out his jab, while Zalal is firing leg kicks and firing overhand rights to counter. Zalal starts landing some nice strikes from the middle and Woodson starting to back up a bit, so Zalal shoots for a takedown. Woodson is able to stuff it against the cage though and then lands a couple of nice kicks before a left hand wobbles Zalal! Zalal recovers well and seems to have the speed advantage so is landing first and preventing the jab of Woodson from being effective. Zalal moves in for another takedown but Woodson defends it well against the cage again before they break and Zalal goes for a double leg this time and gets it to end the round on top. 10-9 Zalal but close round.
Woodson comes out strong in the second round and lands some nice body kicks to back Zalal up, but the ‘Moroccan Devil’ avoids it and goes in for a takedown against the cage once again. Zalal breaks and lands an elbow before shooting back in again, then lands another elbow as they separate again. Woodson loading up with kicks and Zalal finding it pretty easy to avoid them, but Woodson lands a nice straight left. Zalal throws a nice left hook that lands before both guys trade leg kicks and then Woodson lands a nice left hand and jab again. Zalal shoots for a takedown against the cage with 20 seconds left but Woodson synchs up a guillotine but just runs out of time. 19-19 for me.
More of the same at the start of the final round as Zalal goes for another takedown and puts Woodson against the cage, but he is able to defend it well again and break out into the centre. Woodson takes the centre and is forcing Zalal backwards now, landing some decent strikes but then Zalal shoots in again to stop that momentum. Woodson throws a couple of nice knees to the body and is looking for a guillotine again but Zalal picks him up to escape with a minute to go. Zalal shoots in again but Woodson switches it and goes for a guillotine from the top, but Zalal explodes out and they get back to swinging to end the fight. 29-28 Woodson but close for sure.
Manon Fiorot def Tabatha Ricci via Knockout, Round 2 (3:00)
Tentative start from both ladies early on as Fiorot uses her significant size advantage to land he patented side kick and jab. Ricci circling on the outside and bursting with some flurries, but Fiorot staying calm and composed and lands a nasty body kick. She follows up with a nice left hook straight to the chin, but Ricci keeps moving and looking for an entry. Huge left straight from Fiorot down the pipe lands and easily denies a takedown attempt. Fiorot fires off a combination but Ricci just about slips it and gets away. Fiorot has the centre and lands a big left hand again but Ricci responds with a nice strike as the round ends. 10-9 Fiorot but Ricci is showing promise.
Fast start to the second round for Fiorot as she starts to hunt Ricci down and throw combinations against the cage. Fiorot goes for a takedown inexplicably but Ricci denies it and eats another combination up top. Ricci trying to throw some leg kicks but Fiorot checks and keeps coming forward, clinching up and landing two big elbows. Fiorot steps forward with a big combination and drops Ricci and starts teeing off! Ricci gets back to her feet but Fiorot keeps pouring it on and eventually the referee mercifully steps in to end it. Huge knockout win!
Alan Patrick vs Mason Jones – NO CONTEST (Accidental eye poke)
Absolutely wild first round to start as Jones takes the centre of the octagon and looks to counter some crazy strikes from Patrick. The Brazilian shoots for a takedown but Jones avoids it and lands a nice right hand. Patrick throws some spinning kicks and back fists but Jones is slipping then and responding with big counters. Big exchange of punches from both men as Jones lands a left hand that staggers Patrick. Jones pushes forward with more pressure and Patrick clinches up and pulls guard but Jones starts smashing him with ground and pound. Big, heavy elbows from top position and huge strikes from the top and the referee nearly waves it off but he just runs out of time. 10-9 Jones, great round.
Patrick opens the second round with some more wild techniques before Jones steps in, gets a trip and starts working from top position once again. Some nice ground and pound strikes land but Patrick is able to jump back to his feet. He eats a big left hand and then an accidental eye poke causes a stop. Patrick tells the doctor he can’t see and the fight is waved off. Tough break for Jones.
Steady start to the fight from both guys as they look to feel each other out early on. Amirkhani shoots in for two takedowns but Kirk is able to slip his leg out both times pretty easily. Kirk steps forward and looks to land a right hand but Amirkhani then steps in to close the distance with another shot. This time he gets hold around the body of Kirk and throws him over his head and refuses to let go, before securing a trip and getting heavy on top. Kirk is able to push Amirkhani off and get up relatively quickly though and with no damage before a nice left hand clips Amirkhani. A bit of pressure from Kirk but the round ends, 10-9 either way.
Good start to the second round from Kirk as he steps in with some nice body work and a few straight right hands. Attempted flying knee just misses from Kirk, who then lands a massive right hand right to the side of the head. Three big body shots in a row from Kirk and Amirkhani shoots in again for a takedown but this time gets it, with Kirks attempts at a guillotine and heel hook coming to nothing. Amirkhani now in top position, staying heavy but Kirk throws up a triangle armbar and it’s tight! He locks it out and extends but Amirkhani refuses to tap and the buzzer goes. 20-18 to Kirk for me but could be 19-19 or 20-18 the other way too to be fair.
Final round and Amirkhani lands a big left hand clean on the chin to open up. Both guys look tired and after another left hand from Amirkhani he shoots for the takedown and secures it. Amirkhani heavy on top again, but Kirk throws up another triangle that just can’t get locked up. Kirk gets him back up to the feet but Amirkhani keeps hold of him and drags him down to the mat again, but this time Kirk reverses it and ends up on top. Kirk throwing body shots from the top as Amirkhani just holding him down to stall for time. Kirk postures up and lands a big left hand and the round ends with a stalemate for position. Super close fight, honestly could go either way.
Muslim Salikhov def Francisco Trinaldo via Decision (30-27 x3)
Very tense opening to this fight as both men throw out lots of feints and feelers early on, with Trinaldo coming forward. Salikhov throws a beautiful body kick that slaps, but Trinaldo rushes forward and lands a nice left hand in response. Salikhov taking his time and trying to counter, lands a big overhand right after missing with a left hook and then throwing a big body kick again. Trinaldo coming forward in bursts again and lands a nice left hand to the chin. Salikhov throws a leg kick but it gets checked and then follows up with a big left uppercut that drops Trinaldo! He follows up with some big ground and pound but Trinaldo stays calm on his back and sees it out until the bell. Whew! 10-9 Salikhov.
Good start from Trinaldo in the second round as he comes forward again and bull-rushes Salikhov, landing a nice right hand. Salikhov looks for the uppercut again that just misses, but then follows up with a couple of right hands himself that do land. Trinaldo lands a nice left hand before Salikhov lands a huge right hook that wobbles Trinaldo again! Trinaldo swings some huge punches after he recovers but Salikhov slips them all and lands some nice right hands of his own in between to really start piecing Trinaldo up. Salikhov is seeing the punches coming now and slipping then countering as he throws Trinaldo to the ground. 20-18 Salikhov but Trinaldo is still in this fight.
Final round and Trinaldo comes out swinging once again, but Salikhov counters with a left hook and gets a big eye poke for his troubles. After a pause in the action Trinaldo comes forward and lands a big left hand to that eye that wobbles him. Salikhov responds with a body kick and leg kick, but Trinaldo continues to come forward and look for that big left hand. Salikhov lands a nice leg kick and pushes Trinaldo to the ground at the same time, then eats up some time with a few leg kicks to his grounded opponent too. The referee stands him up and Trinaldo continues to come forward again as we enter the final minute as Salikhov lands a nice straight right hand. Big left hand from Trinaldo forces Salikhov to change levels and dump Trinaldo to the mat to see out the final 30 seconds and surely claim a win. 29-28 Salikhov for me.
Boser taking the centre early on and being the aggressor with some head kick attempts. Latifi just circling on the outside as Boser bounces around and feints some strikes, before another kick attempt gets caught and Latifi puts him on the mat immediately. Latifi works from guard into side control and looks to grind, but Boser is able to swivel his hips and explode back to his feet. Boser steps in with some nice jabs and a left straight but Latifi looking to clinch up every time. Boser lands another big jab and throws another two kicks to see out the round. Tough to score to be honest but I lean to Boser.
Latifi looking to punch his way in early in the second round, stepping forward with a nice overhand right. Boser responds with good foot work and his jab, slipping Latifi’s big punches and just piecing him up rather than landing bombs of his own. Boser steps forward and lands a big right hand that makes Latifi go down holding his eye, but the referee doesn’t step in and Boser goes for the kill! Huge ground and pound strikes against the cage but Latifi defends himself well and eventually clinches up. He shoots for a takedown but Boser defends it and goes for his jabs once again to end the round. 20-18 Boser for me.
Final round and Boser steps out with his jabs again but Latifi goes for an early takedown this time and gets it. Straight into Boser’s guard and this time Latifi is throwing some ground and pound strikes with heavy top pressure, stopping Boser from doing anything significant from his back. More grinding ground and pound from Latifi for almost two minutes at the end of the round and it’s his round but I think Boser will get the nod. 29-28 Boser for me.
*TOM BREESE VS ANTONIO ARROYO CANCELLED DUE TO A MEDICAL ISSUE FOR BREESE*
Montana De La Rosa def Ariane Lipski via Knockout, Round 2 (4:27)
Very patient start to the fight from both women, as Lipski using some feints as De La Rosa keeps the distance short. A few kick attempts from Lipski but eventually De La Rosa closes the distance, secure a body lock and gets Lipski to the ground. De La Rosa stays heavy on top and works her way to full guard where she starts raining down elbows and cuts Lipski wide open to the side of her eye. Lipski not doing much to get up and De La Rosa is able to just land big strikes at will here as the round ends. 10-9 De La Rosa.
Second round and Lipski lands a big right hand immediately, but De La Rosa shoots and gets the takedown perfectly in response. De La Rosa is able to slide into side control and has Lipski against the cage, keeping her in a really tough position and landing those big elbow strikes once again. Lipski is threatening with a kimura but it doesn’t have much hope and then De La Rosa slides into full mount and starts raining down huge elbows and punches. Lipski trying to roll away but De La Rosa refuses to let her and just keeps thumping away until the referee steps in and ends it! Huge win for De La Rosa!
Gregory Rodrigues def Dusko Todorovic via Decision (30-27 x2, 29-28)
A super start to the fight from the UFC newcomer as Rodrigues steps forward and is landing his power jab well. Rodrigues firing his right straight perfectly too and is catching Todorovic clean very, very often. A clinch up against the cage sees Rodrigues with a judo throw put Todorovic down, but he gets back up to his feet immediately. More crisp right hands land from Rodrigues as Todorovic just eats them, but he’s walking back with his chin high. Todorovic lands a nice right hand of his own to see out the round but that’s a Rodrigues round clearly. 10-9.
Rodrigues coming out aggressive in the second round and finding a home for that right hand over and over again. Some digs to the body from Rodrigues and another big right hand, before a power double leg secures him a takedown too. Todorovic tries to get up using the cage and eats a knee to he head but is able to get away. Rodrigues lands a big straight right hand on the chin again as Todorovic steps forward and throws a little flurry. Final minute and Rodrigues slips a punch and lands a beautiful left-hook, right hand combo. 20-18 Rodrigues, but he’s start to slow down a little.
Third and final round and Todorovic looks like he’s still trying to make reads. Good jab lands twice and forces Rodrigues backwards, but he replies with another big right hand that lands flush. Rodrigues goes for a takedown but Todorovic defends it well this time. Rodrigues steps forward again and lands some big combinations and then eats a jab for his trouble. Rodrigues lands a big right hand once more and then goes to the body, but Todorovic replies with a nice left hand of his own. Into the final 30 seconds and Todorovic lands some great body shows but eats another right hand. Todorovic goes for the takedown at the end of the round but the buzzer goes and it should be a win for the newcomer.
Santiago Ponzinibbio def Miguel Baeza via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Fast paced start to this one as Ponzinibbio takes the centre of the cage and looks to land some jabs and his right hand as backs Baeza up against the fence. Baeza responding with his kicks, throwing a lot of heavy leg kicks to the lead leg and throwing his right hand behind it. Baeza blasting those calf kicks and forcing Ponzinibbio backwards, and then he lands a nice left-right hand combo. Ponzinibbio comes forward again and lands a nice left hand but Baeza is throwing more and more leg kicks and they’re really totalling up now. Big flurry from Ponzinibbio at the end of the round lands a couple of strikes but ultimately that’s a Baeza round. 10-9.
Fantastic start to the round from Baeza as he targets the calf kicks once again. Baeza lands three body kicks in a row and as Ponzinibbio throws a jab he gets kicked in the calf once again. Big overhand right from Baeza wobbles Ponzinibbio but Baeza stays calm and doesn’t go straight for the kill. Ponzinibbio throws a few calf kicks of his own and a nice right hand but Baeza then goes back to work with the leg kicks. Ponzinibbio starting to land his jab a lot more now as he comes forward with a big flurry of strikes. Ponzinibbio coming forward constantly and is landing lots of strikes in the second half of this round with big combinations to end the round. 19-19.
Fast start to the final round too as Ponzinibbio steps forward again and they trade jabs. Baeza lands two leg kicks again then follows with a right hand that staggers Ponzinibbio. The Argentine continues to come forward with the lead jab and is now throwing a right hand behind it, but Baeza retaliates with a nice right hand combo to the head and body. Ponzinibbio lands a huge flurry and Baeza is hurt, but Baeza lands two right hands and hurts Ponzinibbio right back! Body kick from Baeza before a left hook lands from Ponzinibbio! Both men trade huge leg kicks and exchange wild hooks. Big uppercut from Baeza but Ponzinibbio lands a big one-two, followed by a Baeza right hand again. Both men spend the final 30 seconds going absolutely crazy with hooks and power punches, with Ponzinibbio getting the better of the exchange to end the round! What a fight! 29-28 Ponzinibbio for me.
Roman Dolidze def Laureano Starapoli via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Staropoli comes out very early and very quickly with a solid body kick, followed by two heavy leg kicks. He goes for a head kick that misses and Dolidze immediately shoots in for a takedown. Staropoli gets to his feet against the cage but Dolidze keeps a body lock and drags Staropoli down over and over again for almost the full round. A few knees to the thigh from Dolidze but otherwise a pretty dull round. 10-9 Dolidze.
Second round starts with an immediate power double leg from Dolidze who gets the fight down momentarily before they end up against the cage once again, in the same way as they did the first round. Staropoli eventually is able to spin away and get away from the grip of Dolidze and then lands a couple of kicks again. Big left uppercut from Staropoli lets Dolidze change levels and get another takedown. More clinching against the cage as Staropoli tries to escape and finally he does, before going for a takedown of his own and the same stalemate occurring again. 20-18 Dolidze.
Third and final round and we see more of the same from both fighters, with Staropoli unable to get his striking game going at all because of Dolidze’s strength whenever he gets close. Dolidze holding him against the cage throughout and any spec of danger is evaded. 30-27 Dolidze, next please.
Marcin Tybura def Walt Harris via Knockout, Round 1 (4:06)
Fast start to the round from Harris as he comes forward with intent and starts throwing bombs early. Huge rights and lefts from Harris landing clean but Tybura still standing and wobbling. Harris tries to clinch and goes for knees, then throws a flurry of hooks that drops Tybura again. He goes for a finish but Tybura drives forward for a takedown and gets it against the cage. Harris does well but then Tybura catches a kick and sweeps the leg to get on top. He transitions to the back and puts one hook in, working for a rear naked choke. He then starts landing heavy strikes that are having a big effect on Harris and eventually the referee steps in and ends the fight! Huge knockout win for Tybura!
Jairzinho Rozenstruik def Augusto Sakai via Knockout, Round 1 (4:59)
Slow start to this one as Rozenstruik takes the centre and flicks out a leg kick or two, but generally both guys just feeling each other out for now. Another leg kick is matched by Sakai this time and then goes for another but Rozenstruik catches it and just misses with a counter right hand. Sakai throws a right hand that misses and Rozenstruik fires back with an overhand that whistles past Sakai. Rozenstruik backs Sakai against the cage and throws a flurry of shots but Sakai defends well. He does it again and this time lands a left hook right hand and Sakai is down! He lands a couple of follow ups just before the horn goes but it’s all over! Huge win!
Breese is a powerhouse of a striker with good takedowns and fantastic jiu-jitsu from the top, but on his back he almost seems to freeze against anyone who can get him there. Arroyo is also a grappler but he has really struggled since coming into the UFC and has completely frozen every time he’s got in the octagon.
Breese is in a bit of a rut right now but his skillset is far too well rounded to be caused problems by Arroyo and he should win this one pretty comfortably. PICK – Tom Breese via Submission, Round 2
Dusko Todorovic (10-1) vs Gregory Rodrigues (9-3) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A short notice middleweight clash as Dusko Todorovic looks to put the first defeat of his career behind him when he takes on replacement opponent Gregory Rodrigues. Todorovic had won ten in a row heading into UFC Fight Island 8, where he was knocked out in the first round by Punahele Soriano. Rodrigues replaed Maki Pitolo on a two-fight win streak, having won his last fight just two weeks ago.
Todorovic is a good kickboxer with some decent kicks but really good straight punches and power. An issue he has however is that he often steps out of exchanges with his hands low and chin high, which could allow for the powerful Rodrigues to cause an upset. The Brazilian is a solid striker himself but he also some good grappling skills to work with and Todorovic on the ground isn’t something we’ve seen much, if any, of.
The short notice nature of the bout makes Todorovic a wide favourite, simply because he has good combinations and hand speed and is at his best when pressuring opponents. Rodrigues could catch him with a big overhand, but the most likely option is Todorovic gets a win with a big blitz. PICK – Dusko Todorovic via Knockout, Round 1
Santiago Ponzinibbio (28-4) vs Miguel Baeza (10-0) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Ponzinibbio is a brilliant striker, with huge power in his legs and hands and real explosive power. He’s also a more than decent grappler, but he’s got nothing on Baeza when it comes to the ground game. Baeza is a tremendous grappler but also has exceptional power on the feet as shown by his seven knockout wins in his career. The old version of Ponzinibbio would have won this fight no question, but the version who fought Li is likely to lose.
Baeza has had trouble against guys who force him backwards, which Ponzinibbio will likely do, but he’s got such big knockout power in his hands that you have to now question ‘Gente Boa’s’ chin. It’s going to be one-sided, but it completely depends on which Ponzinibbio turns up and after so long away, I just don’t think the old version exists anymore. PICK – Miguel Baeza via Knockout, Round 2
Roman Dolidze (8-1) vs Laureano Staropoli (9-3) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Dolidze is a solid wrestler, who looks to get takedowns and secure top position as much as possible before landing his good ground and pound game, while Staropoli is a man who prefers to stand and strike if he has the option. It’s a real clash of styles, but there is a big size difference between the two. Dolidze was fighting at 205lbs not long ago while Staropoli has fought at 170lbs in the past and that could be a big factor here.
Staropoli has the striking advantage, but Dolidze will be able to get hold of him and get him down to the ground for long spells of control and a decision victory. PICK – Roman Dolidze via Decision
Walt Harris (13-9 1NC) vs Marcin Tybura (21-6) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
A banger at heavyweight in the co-main event as ‘Big Ticket’ Walt Harris looks to get back in the win column against Marcin Tybura. Harris was knocked out by Alistair Overeem last year before Alexander Volkov outclassed him and stopped in in round two at UFC 254. Tybura is on a four-fight win streak after beating Sergey Spivak, Maxim Grishin at UFC 251, Ben Rothwell at UFC Fight Island 5 and Greg Hardy at UFC Vegas 17.
Harris is as much a first-round heavyweight that there is in the UFC. He’s got incredible power in his hands, winning all 13 of his victories via knockout, and has a relatively poor gas tank considering the level he fights at. Tybura on the other hand is a tidy striker with good techniques and some leg kicks too, but a fantastic gas tank and really good takedowns too.
This was just a weird fight to make in the first place considering their recent records, but it’s also one of those that is quite lopsided stylistically too. Tybura can piece him up on the feet or take him down and land ground and pound to get a comfortable win. PICK – Marcin Tybura via Decision
Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-2) vs Augusto Sakai (15-2-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
A heavyweight main event that sets up the cushion for those in the heavyweight title picture as Jairzinho Rozenstruik takes on Augusto Sakai. Rozenstruik is 1-2 in his last three, getting starched by Francis Ngannou before a big win over Junior Dos Santos and defeat to Ciryl Gane most recently. Sakai had won six-in-a-row before his last fight, getting knocked out and dominated by Alistair Overeem.
Rozenstruik is an excellent, technical kickboxer with some legitimate one-punch knockout power in his arsenal too. Sakai is also a big, powerful striker and his biggest problems have come against guys who have grappled him and closed the distance. Rozenstruik won’t do that, but he’s without doubt the more technical striker of the two and I’d argue he has the power advantage too.
Both of these guys have big power but while I’m not totally sold on Rozenstruik as a top level guy in this division, he is better than Sakai for me and I expect him to get a spectacular knockout win here once again. PICK – Jairzinho Rozenstruik via Knockout, Round 3
Holloway was explosive from the jump, landing spin kicks, body shots, jabs and straight punches, all while mostly avoiding the power of Kattar to prove he was in fact the better boxer of the two.
He blew Kattar out of the water for the entire five rounds, landing an incredible 445 significant strikes throughout the night including a record 141 strikes in round four alone.
It was a reminder to fans who may have believed that Holloway was past it following three defeats in his last four bouts, but it was also a warning to the champion Alexander Volkanovski.
After back-to-back losses against Volkanovski, the Australian had hoped to have washed his hands of Holloway and the title picture. Many believed Holloway won their second encounter and this performance was evidence that despite not having gold wrapped around his waist right now, he is still the best 145lber in the world, maybe ever.
With Volkanovski set to defend his title against Brian Ortega at UFC 260 in March, it’s evident that the winner will be taking on Max Holloway once again in their following fight.
Elsewhere on the card, Joaquin Buckley’s hype train was brought to a screeching halt with a violent head kick knockout by Alessio Di Chirico. The middleweight division continues to build in strength and depth, and after his first win since 2018 he will now look to build some momentum and hopefully work his way into the rankings this year having once been seen as Italy’s best chance at a UFC belt.
Santiago Ponzinibbio found out the hard way that the welterweight division has moved on without him, as he was knocked unconscious by the left hand of Jingliang Li in the first round of their fight too.
Ponzinibbio looked gun shy and hesitant during the opening exchanges, throwing only 18 strikes in the opening round before being knocked out with 35 seconds remaining. Li now has seven stoppages in the UFC and with four wins in his last five he will be looking to break into the rankings with his next fight.
Ponzinibbio will need to re-evaluate after over two years out and then such a timid display, it’s possible that the division’s elite have left him behind.
Austin Lingo def Jacob Kilburn via Unanimous Decision (30-26 x2, 30-27)
A fast start to the night as Lingo steps forward and takes the centre of the cage early and lets his right hand fly. Some big shots land clean and Kilburn goes down hurt, but he gets back up quickly. Lingo lands some nice left hooks around the guard to keep Kilburn shaky on the feet. Kilburn shoots for a takedown against the cage and is able to recover his senses. The jab is landing clean and Lingo is in control of the round. 10-9 Lingo.
Lingo comes out hard again and lands a few nice shots early, but Kilburn changes levels early and lands a takedown for the first time in the fight. Lingo is able to create space and kick him off almost instantly though and the fight goes back to the feet. Lingo lands a nice left straight that snaps Kilburn’s head back but he is doing well to circle and threaten with takedowns in this round. Kilburn gets another takedown but Lingo once again escapes back to the feet immediately, then gets a takedown of his own against the cage before he allows Kilburn back up as the round ends. 20-18 Lingo.
Kilburn comes out for the final round and showing good energy, throwing nice combinations and attempting the takedown again. In the scramble Kilburn goes for a judo throw and gets it but ends up on the bottom with a kimura grip. Lingo stays patient on top and eventually escapes back to the feet and starts striking on the feet again, landing his jab well. Lingo counters a low-kick with a beautiful one-two as Kilburn goes for a lazy single leg takedown. Big right hand again from Lingo lands inside the final minute as the round comes to a close for what should be a comfortable Lingo decision win. 30-27 Lingo.
Vanessa Melo def Sarah Moras via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Slow start to this one as Melo takes the centre of the octagon and Moras continually circles, flicking out the jab. There’s more noise coming from the octagon than the stands right now as Moras channels her inner Maria Sharapova every time she throws a strike. Melo starts cutting her off instead of just following, but the pattern remains the same as Moras flicks the jab and Melo looks for a power right hand. Nice one-two lands from Moras but a bit of a non-event this round. 10-9 Moras, I guess?
Another slow start to the round but Melo lands the biggest shot of the round with a left hook that knocks Moras’ mouthpiece out. Moras bleeding from the mouth now and Melo continuing to stalk her around the octagon, and Moras’ circling has significantly slowed now. Moras shoots for a takedown inside the final 30 seconds but Melo defends it perfectly and the round ends. Probably even going into the final round, 19-19.
Pattern of the fight is established by now, but Moras has thrown some leg kicks early on. More circling, more jabs and more straight rights from Melo that are just missing. Nice leg kicks land again and more jabs from Moras but there is no urgency really from either fighter as we enter the final minute. Bit of a flurry from both ladies in the final ten seconds but that was a fight I won’t be watching back again. 29-28 Moras for me.
Ramazan Emeev def David Zawada via Split Decision (29-28, 28-29 x2)
Competitive start to this fight as Zawada looks to take the centre of the cage and keep Emeev on the back foot. Emeev throws a beautiful right hand that instantly causes some swelling under Zawada’s eye. Zawada starts throwing some nice leg kicks and Emeev then starts shooting for the takedown and gets it. Zawada gets back up quickly but Emeev puts him back down again quickly and starts to land some nice ground and pound. Zawada eventually gets back up towards the end of the round but Emeev lands some huge strikes on the way up that rocks him! Emeev round for me. 10-9.
Early leg kick from Zawada in the second round and Emeev wobbles instantly, which forces him straight into the takedown attempt. He gets the fight down early on and Zawada accepts the full guard position, with Emeev landing some nice strikes from the top before Emeev explodes back up. Big one-two from Emeev lands clean but Zawada responds with two leg kicks and Emeev is struggling now. Another two takedown attempts from Emeev denied by Zawada as the round comes to a close. Close but Zawada’s for me. 19-19
Final round opens up with a beautiful takedown immediately from Emeev, as he tries to push Zawada towards the cage. Zawada very aggressive off his back, landing strikes and attempting submissions but Emeev very confident and calm to avoid and land some strikes of his own. Zawada gets the fight back to the feet and then gets a single leg of his own and ends up in side control. Emeev tries to scramble up to his feet but Zawada is able to move into full mount! Emeev escapes by giving his back and then reversing before both men get back to the feet for the final 90 seconds. Left hook from Emeev lands and it staggers Zawada but they stay standing in the centre of the cage. Final punch of the fight is a big right hand from Emeev, in what should be a decision win for him. 29-28 Emeev.
Carlos Felipe def Justin Tafa via Split Decision (29-28 x2, 28-29)
Pretty slow fight early on with Felipe throwing jabs and feelers while Tafa looks to counter everything. A few leg kicks from Tafa land and then he rips a body kick too that lands clean. Felipe starts to load up his right hand but is missing a lot and Tafa looks very calm, firing a big left hand down the pipe. 10-9 Tafa after the first.
Big body kick lands to open the round from Tafa, but Felipe fires back with some big right hands to the body and follows up with some hooks. Felipe looks for a single leg but Tafa avoids it easily then lands a lovely left hook to the body before a left uppercut through the guard. Another big left body kick from Tafa and Felipe fires back with a right hook that misses wildly. Tafa throws a kick but Felipe comes forward and throws some big combinations that land clean and hurt Tafa! Shots to the body and Tafa is in pain and clinches to survive. Big right hand lands again and a big uppercut has Tafa wobbled but he fires back with a big shot of his own as the two engage when the round ends. 19-19, what a round!
A bit more of a tentative start to the final round as Felipe looks to up the pace once again. Both heavyweights are going forehead to forehead and swinging combinations to the head and body. Felipe misses with a straight right hand and Tafa changes levels to look for the takedown. They clinch against the cage, throwing body shots at each other before Felipe reverses the position and steps away from the cage. Tafa goes for a big trip and both men fall to the ground. Final 30 seconds and both men stand toe to toe and swing to bring the crowd to their feet! What a fight! 29-28 Felipe but could go either way.
Very intense and impressive first round as Wu Yanan looks to take the fight to the ground early but Edwards stays calm on her back. Suddenly Edwards switches her hips and looks for an armbar and Wu is in trouble! She defends well but the position is locked in for a good few minutes before Wu finally manages to escape before a scramble sees Edwards back on top for the end of the round. 10-9 Edwards.
Wu comes out in the second round more aggressive and lands lots of stabbing body kicks to keep Edwards away. Nice strikes land and Edwards looks hesitant now, but a big elbow lands and seemingly wakes her up. She starts charging forward and lands some big shots, forcing Wu to shoot for the takedown again but as they hit the floor Edwards reverses the position and starts landing big ground and pound. Edwards’ combos are causing problems for Wu and the round comes to an end. 20-18 Edwards in her debut.
Final round and it’s more of the same, as Edwards lands great kicks and powerful combinations but Wu keeps coming forward. Wu starting to pressure Edwards against the cage but Edwards staying very calm and responding with explosive power of her own. Final minute of the fight and Edwards still has gas in the tank and is coming forward now with aggression and speed. She fails with a takedown attempt at the buzzer but should have enough in the bank to get the win here. 30-27.
Punahele Soriano def Dusko Todorovic via Knockout, Round 1 (4:48)
Fun start to the main card as Todorovic and Soriano immediately trade bombs early on. Todorovic seems to be a bit quicker so far, landing nice jabs and using excellent head movement to evade the big shots of Soriano. Soriano throws a big head kick that Todorovic avoids by leaning back, before Soriano lands a big left hand. Soriano continues to march forward and lands a huge left hand that drops Todorovic! He looks to finish but Dusko tries to recover and grapple, but Soriano gets the referee to stand it up. Another big left hand against the cage and Todorovic is down again and without a mouth guard! The referee pauses the fight to get the mouth guard before Soriano steps forward and drops him again with a big left hand!! It’s all over! What a knockout!
Alessio Di Chirico def Joaquin Buckley via Knockout, Round 1 (2:12)
Buckley comes out quickly with lunging strikes and lots of power, as Di Chirico looks to use kicks to maintain distance. Buckley with some body attacks but Di Chirico is keeping his range well and lands a nice right hand of his own. The two clash in the centre and Di Chirico throws a big head kick that knocks Buckley out cold!! It’s over!! WOW!
Jingliang Li defSantiago Ponzinibbio via Knockout, Round 1 (4:25)
Cagey start to this one with both men respecting each other’s power and speed early on as they put out feelers together. Li is constantly moving, throwing some nice leg kicks but Ponzinibbio checks one or two of them. Lots of leg kicks from Li as Ponzinibbio is struggling to figure out the range right now. Li throws a right hand, left hook combo and Ponzinibbio IS OUT COLD!!! OH MY GOD!! WOW!!
Carlos Condit def Matt Brown via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Interesting start to the fight as Condit comes out with elbows and straight shots, while Brown parries and throws some leg kicks. Brown shoots for a takedown and gets it against the cage, but scrapes his head against the cage on the way down that cuts him open. Brown controls the position on the ground and lands some good strikes, but Condit keeps moving and eventually is able to switch the position and ends the round on top. 10-9 Brown.
Second round starts faster and Brown continues to step forward. Both charge at the same time and Brown lands a sharp elbow straight down the middle that rocks Condit! He gets his wits about him and lands a strong body kick that has Brown breathing heavy. Condit steps forward with a combo but Brown avoids and then Condit with a flying leg sweep takedown to end up on top. Nice ground and pound from Condit in the top position. He looks to pass into a crucifix position but Brown defending well and the round ends. 19-19 going into the final round.
Final round starts with a big cup shot from Condit that pauses the fight again. Nice combo attempts from Condit before Brown shoots for the takedown against the cage. Condit is able to reverse the position and ends up on Brown’s back landing nice ground and pound and looking for a rear-naked choke but Brown continues to defend. Both men get back to their feet and Condit looks to dump Brown down again but he reverses and ends the round in top position with both guys trading blows. Great fight, 29-28 Condit for me.
Max Holloway def Calvin Kattar via Unanimous Decision (50-43 x2, 50-42)
Holloway comes out busy in the opening round with jabs, low kicks, straights and body shots as he looks to ascertain his dominance early on. Holloway throws a nice combo as Kattar is still trying to adjust his range. Nice jab from Kattar immediately reddens the face of Holloway, and then another one lands for good measure. Significant speed difference right now between Holloway and Kattar, with ‘Blessed’ dominating the exchanges. Spinning back kick to the body lands followed by a straight right by Holloway. First round was a clinic. 10-9 Holloway.
Fast start to the second round from Holloway again as he just constantly throws strikes and keeps it moving. More combos from Holloway land flush but Kattar eats it and keeps walking forward. Nice straight right from Kattar lands flush on the chin but Holloway doesn’t flinch and keeps coming. Nice strike from Holloway drops Kattar, but he gets back up quickly before Holloway can react. Another nice right hand from Kattar but Holloway keeps coming forward. Kattar throws a body kick but Holloway catches it and drops Kattar with a right hand. Huge elbow from Holloway rocks Kattar but he stays on his feet. Holloway pouring it on looking for the finish and lands two more huge elbows. Big head kick wobbles Kattar again and as Holloway charges the buzzer goes. Wow. 20-17 Holloway.
‘Blessed’ comes out quickly again in the third with good strikes and combos. Another big combo from Holloway forces Kattar to clinch but Holloway steps away again. Holloway swings for the elbow again but misses and Kattar replies with a massive uppercut! Big right hand again from Kattar forces Holloway backwards but he steps forward again and lands more combos. Big one-twos land again, Kattar wobbling every time he gets hit clean. Holloway is reading Kattar’s shots, slipping them, showboating and then firing back with his own. This in an unbelievable performance. 30-26 Holloway.
More of the same in this fourth round as Holloway is showing no signs of slowing up. Nice body shots from Holloway are starting to hurt Kattar bad. Big elbow from Holloway again and Kattar is rocked against the cage. Holloway throwing body shots, knees, elbows, straights, uppercuts and all sorts as Kattar just refuses to hit the floor. Body kicks, head kicks, leg kicks and more violent elbows from Holloway but the round goes the full five minutes. Unbelievable performance from Holloway. 40-34.
Final round and Holloway is picking Kattar apart. More punches, more body shots, more kicks and now he’s talking to Kattar. He side steps a Kattar right hand and screams at the commentary desk that he’s the best boxer in the UFC then dodges another punch without even looking. More shots as he continues to showboat for the most one-sided main event I may have ever seen. 50-42 Holloway.
The UFC is finally back after a month away and kicks off on Fight Island with an absolute belter headlined by Max Holloway taking on Calvin Kattar in the featherweight division.
Both men are looking to make a case for the next title shot with a win, and are accompanied on the card by two legends in Carlos Condit and Matt Brown in the co-main event. Knockout of the year winner Joaquin Buckley also returns to action on the main card, taking on Alessio Di Chirico.
Punahele Soriano (7-0) vs Dusko Todorovic (10-0) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Two unbeaten studs go head to head in the middleweight division in the main card opener. Soriano won his UFC debut in December 2019 with a big knockout win, while Todorovic stopped Dequan Townsend in October in his own debut.
Soriano is a decent wrestler, who uses those skills to throw big shots with his hands and take people’s heads off. Todorovic is very similar, but better when it comes to the striking game. If his opponent looks to defend the strikes, he takes the opportunity to land a takedown and control from the top with ground and pound.
It’s a really well matched up fight and while neither have got huge wins in the UFC on their resumé, Todorovic seems to have a slight edge in the striking and a bigger edge in the overall grappling so I expect he’ll take the decision win. PICK – Dusko Todorovic via Decision
Joaquin Buckley (12-3) vs Alessio Di Chirico (12-5) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Arguably the fighter who made the biggest impression among MMA fans from the unknown in 2020, Joaquin Buckley returns to the octagon to take on a fighter on a three-fight losing streak at middleweight.
Buckley went 2-1 in the UFC last year, and showed a fantastic striking game that saw him walk opponents down and fire off heavy shots. His chin was tested and failed against Kevin Holland, but stood well against Impa Kasanganay and Jordan Wright. Di Chirico is well rounded and enjoys the clinch aspect of the fight, but he’s out-gunned everywhere for me here.
‘New Mansa’ wants to start the year with a bang and I think he does it early in this one. PICK – Joaquin Buckley via Knockout, Round 1
Santiago Ponzinibbio (27-3) vs Jingliang Li (17-6) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A return to the octagon for one of the highest rated welterweights in the company, as he steps into the cage for the first time since November 2018 to take on Jingliang Li.
Ponzinibbio is on a seven fight win streak, beating Neil Magny most recently, while Li lost his last fight in March 2020 to none other than Neil Magny. Ponzinibbio is a stunning striker who’s had so many injuries to his hands that we don’t know how this fight goes anymore. Li is a striker himself and has eight knockout wins in his career, but he is not on the level of a 100% Ponzinibbio.
Overhand strikes and powerful calf kicks, partnered up with super fast combinations is a devastating spell for Li. He’s never been knocked out, but he was dropped twice by Jake Matthews and if Ponzinibbio lands flush it could be night night. PICK – Santiago Ponzinibbio via Decision
Carlos Condit (31-13) vs Matt Brown (22-17) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Co-main event time between two legendary welterweights. Carlos Condit was at one point considered the uncrowned champion, but had lost five in a row prior to his most recent fight – a win over Court McGee back in October. Brown has lost three of his last five, including his most recent fight when he got knocked out by Miguel Baeza.
Condit prefers to strike but is more than confident when it comes to grappling, while Brown leans more the opposite way. Stylistically the fight etches towards Condit, who has double digit wins in both knockouts and submissions throughout his career.
Both men are at the end of their careers in reality and the fight could go either way, but considering Brown’s last four defeats have all come via stoppage I think Condit gets it done with a submission following a knockdown. PICK – Carlos Condit via Submission, Round 2
Max Holloway (21-6) vs Calvin Kattar (22-4) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
Both men are exceptional boxers and this fight will almost certainly take place exclusively on the feet, with Holloway using his footwork, jab and speed while Kattar looks to use his excellent jab and powerful hooks. Kattar is without doubt the more powerful fighter, but ‘Blessed’ has never been knocked down in his UFC career. He has out-struck every opponent he’s fought in recent memory barring Dustin Poirier during his brief stint at lightweight.
This is my pick for fight of the night and I think Holloway will be able to get it done. Kattar has never fought anyone as good as Holloway and won, while ‘Blessed’ has dispatched of fighters better than Kattar in the past with relative ease. Holloway will pick Kattar off as we go through five rounds and ease to a decision win. PICK – Max Holloway via Decision