The UFC returns to the Apex in Las Vegas for a fight night card headlined by two heavyweight contenders in Sergei Pavlovich and Curtis Blaydes.
Pavlovich enters on a hugely impressive run of knockout victories among the big men, while Blaydes is still searching for that elusive title shot having never quite managed to get over the line to earn one in the past.
Last week at UFC Kansas City we perfectly predicted a Max Holloway win on the scorecards, moving us to three out of four with two correct picks on main event only picks. Our overall record for full cards stands at 866/1339 (64.68%) with 355 perfect picks (40.99%). You can see our pick history here.
We’ll look to improve on our main event only picks here, as these two behemoths meet in a clash of styles.
Recent fight history
Sergei Pavlovich comes into this bout on an impressive five-fight winning streak, with his last loss coming in his UFC debut when he was knocked out by Alistair Overeem.
He is yet to come out of the first round in his UFC career, with first-round knockout wins over all of Marcelo Golm, Maurice Greene, Shamil Abdurakhimov, Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa.
As for Blaydes, he comes into this fight on a three-fight winning streak with his last defeat coming in that highlight reel knockout loss to “The Black Beast” back in 2021.
Since then he has dominated Jairzinho Rozenstruik to a decision win, before knocking out Chris Daukaus and then earning a win over Tom Aspinall when the Brit injured his knee in the opening seconds of the fight.
In case his record didn’t make it very clear, Pavlovich is a powerhouse of a striker with incredible knockout ability and good boxing.
We’re yet to see his grappling tested in the octagon so it’s hard to know how he fares, but he has got enough power to put people to sleep with just one shot.
His boxing is good with his jab usually setting up a big overhand right, before he launches on his opponents for the finish.
But against Blaydes he will be coming up against arguably the best wrestler in the division, with phenomenal grappling skills to go with his nasty ground and pound elbows as well as his top control.
Pavlovich’s only defeat in the UFC came when he was tripped from a Thai clinch and then couldn’t get back to his feet from under Overeem, but if Blaydes is able to get him down to the mat it certainly raises questions about if he will be able to get back up and away from where “Razor” thrives.
Blaydes has only ever lost to Francis Ngannou (twice) and Lewis, with both guys landing huge one-punch finishes. However his chin has held up excellently in other fights, and this will be a big task for Pavlovich.
There’s no doubting that Pavlovich has earned his spot in this main event, but we cannot ignore the route he took to get here.
He dominated guys he was supposed to dominate, then came up against an ageing and gun-shy Lewis before landing a brawl against the guy with the worst striking defence at the top of the division.
Blaydes is easily the best fighter that he will have ever come up against, and his weaknesses lie exactly where his opponent’s strengths are.
If he is able to survive the initial first-round blitz that will no doubt come, Blaydes should find the takedown easier and easier to come by as the fight goes on.
Expect that he lands big ground and pound before Pavlovich gets back to his feet, and puts an end to the hype train in an emphatic way.
Eryk Anders (14-7) vs Kyle Daukaus (11-3) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Middleweight scrap opens up the main card and it’s a good’n. Anders has lost his last two in a row, getting submitted by Andre Muniz at UFC 269 before dropping a split decision to Jun Yong Park back in May. Daukaus on the other hand earned a first-round submission win over Jamie Pickett in his first fight of the year, but was KO’d by Roman Dolidze in June last time out.
Anders is a stout wrestler with great upper body strength and heavy hands, but he’s never quite been able to string it all together for a run at the top end of the division. Daukaus is in a pretty similar boat, although much earlier on in his UFC career, but he has a much better ground game when it comes to submissions as his nine submission wins and nickname “The D’Arce Knight” show you.
Usually this type of fight favours Anders, because he can avoid being on the bottom with his wrestling and uses his heavy hands to flatline people. But he hasn’t got a KO win in over three years and Daukaus has the wrestling ability to stuff his advances too. He’s far more active on the feet too so the volume should be a factor, and if he does manage to get this fight down he’ll have the edge, so I lean towards Daukaus in this one. PICK – Kyle Daukaus via Decision
Jack Hermansson (23-7) vs Roman Dolidze (11-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Another fun middleweight bout next, but this one came together on short notice. Hermansson is on a 3-3 run in his last six, alternating wins and losses in that time. He suffered a split decision loss to Sean Strickland in February, but claimed a decision win over Chris Curtis at UFC London last time out. Dolidze is replacing Derek Brunson on one weeks’ notice, on a three-fight win streak, beating Laureano Staropoli via decision before KO wins over Kyle Daukaus and Phil Hawes most recently in October.
Hermansson is a terrific grappler, with some of the best submissions and ground and pound in the entire division, but his stand up game has seen him struggle on occasion and a title shot continues to evade him at this point in his career. Dolidze is a stud grappler himself, but since dropping to middleweight he has looked far more powerful and has been a huge threat in the stand up too. Hermansson is a good boxer and his cardio has never, ever been tested, while Dolidze is a bit more wild and has had issues with his gas tank in the past.
Dolidze has the ability to go in there and land one of those power shots to close the show, but against someone as good as Hermansson it seems unlikely. The Swede is capable of winning this fight wherever it goes and having had a full camp, plus his advantage in the boxing with his jab, he should edge a competitive fight. PICK – Jack Hermansson via Decision
Tai Tuivasa (15-4) vs Sergei Pavlovich (16-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Big time heavyweight bangers up next. Tai Tuivasa had won five-in-a-row by knockout against Stefan Struve (UFC 254), Harry Hunsucker (UFC Vegas 22), Greg Hardy (UFC 264), Augusto Sakai (UFC 269) and Derrick Lewis (UFC 271) before losing to Ciryl Gane at UFC Paris back in September in a thrilling fight. Pavlovich has won his last four in a row, KO’ing all of Marcelo Golm, Maurice Greene, Shamil Abudrakhimov and Derrick Lewis.
Tuivasa is a straight up brawler with some decent leg kicks and other-worldly power in both hands, as well as hugely improved cardio that he showed in his last fight. Pavlovich is also a dangerous puncher with great combinations and nasty power, and at 6ft 3 he has a slight size edge here.
With that said, there isn’t much that separates these two. I went against both when they fought Lewis because I expected them to get flattened, and the opposite happened. Lewis is the best guy Pavlovich has fought, while we saw a lot of Tuivasa against Gane and he really impressed. It’s the level of competition that leads me this way, but I think Tuivasa gets it done in a war. PICK – Tai Tuivasa via Knockout, Round 2
Matheus Nicolau (18-3-1) vs Matt Schnell (16-6) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
Huge flyweight bout up next. Nicolau comes into this fight on a five-fight win streak, including 3-0 in the UFC with decision wins over Manel Kape (UFC Vegas 21), Tim Elliott and David Dvorak most recently. Schnell is 1-1 in his last two, losing to Brandon Royval via submission at UFC 274, before bouncing back with a submission win of his own against Sumudaerji in one of the comebacks of the year.
Nicolau is a super well-rounded threat and is destined to be in the title mix at some point in his career. His kickboxing is excellent, he has a solid wrestling game and five submission wins tell you all about his ground threat. Schnell is very similar, but far more aggressive which leaves him open to counters more but also more of a danger when it comes to securing a finish. Nicolau is unlikely to change his game for this fight, because overall he is the more polished MMA man.
With that said he will have to be careful. Schnell seems to be the more powerful guy on the feet and his submission threat is certainly more dangerous. If he tightens up defensively he could be a big problem, but based on what we’ve seen from them both it would be more of a surprise if Nicolau didn’t do enough everywhere to earn the nod from the judges. PICK – Matheus Nicolau via Decision
Bryan Barbarena (18-8) vs Rafael Dos Anjos (31-14) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
An interesting welterweight bout up next between two unranked guys. Barbarena has won his last three, claiming decisions over Darian Weeks and Matt Brown, before earning a KO win over Robbie Lawler at UFC 276 most recently. Dos Anjos is returning after a stint back at lightweight, where he beat Paul Felder (UFC Vegas 14) and Renato Moicano but most recently got stopped by Rafael Fiziev.
Barbaerna is a power puncher with great boxing and counter-punching skills, while he has a decent bit of wrestling in his back pocket too. Dos Anjos is no doubt one of the best, all-round MMA fighters there is in the UFC and it’s no surprise he was a champion at one point, but age is catching him up. His striking mixed in with excellent wrestling and a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu makes him a true great in the sport.
This seems like a mismatch. Barbarena is riding a wave of momentum, but he doesn’t have any real notable wins on his record and any time he’s tried to step up to face someone better he’s been handily beaten. That’s going to happen again. Expect RDA to land clean a few times and then mix in his wrestling for a dominant 30-26 win on the cards. PICK – Rafael Dos Anjos via Decision
Stephen Thompson (16-6-1) vs Kevin Holland (23-8) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A super intriguing welterweight bout up next between two ranked contenders. “Wonderboy” has lost each of his last two, being grappled heavily by Gilbert Burns (UFC 264) and Belal Muhammad. Holland was on a great run after moving to 170-pounds with wins over Alex Oliveira and Tim Means, before the chaos of UFC 279 saw him matched up with Khamzat Chimaev on less than 24 hours notice and run over in just over two minutes at a catchweight.
Thompson remains one of the best pure strikers in the company, with his awkward karate style and footwork allowing him to control the tempo of fight and do damage for long periods of time. Holland is a very explosive and powerful striker on the feet, but he is also an underrated grappler with great jiu-jitsu skills which could be a route to victory for him here. His preference is striking though, and it seems unlikely he will have an edge there.
If Holland wants to be successful he needs to be able to cut the cage off and land big shots, and mix in the threat of the takedown and grappling. If he can’t do that, Wonderboy will do what he’s always done and just pick him apart from the outside with little threat of anything coming back at him. Wonderboy is a super tempting underdog, but I really like Holland at 170 and think this could be his statement win. PICK – Kevin Holland via Decision
The most anticipated women’s MMA rematch of all time as Julianna Pena defends her bantamweight title for the first time against Amanda Nunes at UFC 277 in the main event.
Pena completed one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport last time out, and now she looks to prove it wasn’t a fluke by beating her again.
In the co-main event we also have an interim flyweight title fight as former champion Brandon Moreno takes on Kai Kara-France in a rematch of their own, with the winner setting themselves up to take on injured champion Deiveson Figueiredo once he’s healthy.
Last time out at UFC London we had great fun live at the event, and we had a decent night with our picks too. We went 9/14 with five perfect picks to move to 673/1046 (64.34%) with 289 perfect picks (42.94%). You can check out our full picks history here.
Magomed Ankalaev (17-1) vs Anthony Smith (36-16) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
An absolute banger in the light heavyweight division opens up the main card in this one. Ankalaev is one a mission to the title, and is on an 8-fight win streak currently with a win over Thiago Santos last time out in an underwhelming main event. Smith on the other hand is on a three-fight win streak after stopping Devin Clark, Jimmy Crute (UFC 261) and Ryan Spann in his last bout.
Ankalaev is an absolute demon wherever the fight goes, with brilliant striking and kickboxing to go with his one-punch power and dominant wrestling skills. Smith is a former golden gloves boxing champion who also has great kicks and is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Stylistically this is a really fun fight, but Ankalaev just seems to have an edge wherever this fight goes.
On the feet his slow pacing usually means he is able to pick and choose when to hurt his opponent, while his explosive and masterful wrestling means Ankalaev always has another option if his striking isn’t working. His top game is solid too, which should be enough to neutralise Smith’s jiu-jitsu if it gets there. With that said, I expect the fight to stay standing and while Smith will come forward plenty Ankalaev should be able to pick him off and claim a win on the scorecards. PICK – Magomed Ankalaev via Decision
Alexandre Pantoja (24-5) vs Alex Perez (24-6) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
An amazing flyweight fight next between two guys who could easily be in the title fight happening later in the night. Pantoja has won his last two with a decision over Manel Kape at UFC Vegas 18 before a submission win against Brandon Royval last time out. Perez hasn’t fought since UFC 255 where he was stopped by Deiveson Figueiredo in the first-round of his flyweight title shot.
Pantoja is a brilliant striker on the feet who uses great counters and excellent low kicks, while also having brilliant grappling skills on the mat too. Perez on the other hand is a very impressive grappler with fantastic cardio and submission skills, earning seven wins via tap out in his career. The issue here is he’s matched in that department by Pantoja, and he’s more than bettered on the feet.
“The Cannibal” will stay patient and his lack of output could be a problem in the early rounds on the feet, but he will be confident of being able to land bigger and better in the striking while also holding his own in the grappling. It’ll be a fast-paced, fun fight and I expect Pantoja to claim the victory on the judges’ scorecards. PICK – Alexandre Pantoja via Decision
Derrick Lewis (26-9) vs Sergei Pavlovich (15-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Big boys take centre stage once again in this heavyweight banger. Derrick Lewis has gone 2-2 in his last four, earning KO wins over Curtis Blaydes (UFC Vegas 19) and Chris Daukaus (UFC Vegas 45) and losing to Ciryl Gane (UFC 265) and Tai Tuivasa (UFC 271) most recently. Pavlovich has won his last three all via first-round knockout, beating Marcelo Golm, Maurice Greene and Shamil Abdurakhimov.
Lewis is your traditional heavyweight who has limited skills but incredible power, with the most knockout wins in UFC history. His takedown defence has improved but on his back he relies on explosiveness rather technique to get back up. Pavlovich is a savage with great knockout power too, earning 12 KO wins from 15 career victories. Power for power Lewis will win, but Pavlovich has more than just power.
The Russian has got solid kicks, is a decent wrestler and also has power in the hands. Pavlovich has got a reach advantage and Lewis hasn’t looked himself in recent fights, looking unmotivated and less powerful (?). That said, he’s easily the best fighter Pavlovich has ever fought. This is a fight he should win, but don’t be surprised if he gets put down again. PICK – Derrick Lewis via Knockout, Round 2
Brandon Moreno (19-6-2) vs Kai Kara-France (24-9) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
An interim title fight in the flyweight division up next in a rematch from 2019. Moreno is 1-1-1 in his last three all against Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 256, UFC 263 and UFC 270 where he won the title then lost it again. Kara-France has been on a tear winning three in a row, KO’ing Rogerio Bontorin (UFC 259) and Cody Garbrandt (UFC 269) and then earning a decision over Askar Askarov back in March.
Moreno is a superbly well-rounded fighter, with much improved striking and an elite grappling game on the ground where he also has brilliant scrambles to get back up to the feet when he gets taken down. Kara-France is a striker with great power in his hands, but he proved against Askarov that he’s got excellent wrestling defence and good grappling skills too. This is a super fun match up stylistically but I would be quite surprised to see Kara-France come out on top, especially after the way their first fight went.
Moreno controlled him the first time around and his grappling is still just as good, but his striking is much improved in that time. Kara-France has also improved since that first fight but the level of competition and lack of five-round experience goes against him in comparison to Moreno. The Mexican is one of the most durable fighters in flyweight history and his grappling game is a huge advantage in this fight. It will be 25 minutes of hell and excitement, but Moreno gets the belt at the end of it. PICK – Brandon Moreno via Decision
Julianna Pena (12-4) vs Amanda Nunes (21-5) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
We’re running it back this weekend after the biggest upset in the history of the sport last time. Pena made it two wins in a row at UFC 269 when she submitted Nunes in the second-round to win the belt, ending the “Lioness”‘s 12-fight win streak.
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. What she showed in the first fight though was a willingness to get in Nunes’ face to wear her out.
Pena will likely try to do the same again. She’ll use that jab effectively before looking to secure a takedown, but Nunes will be more patient. She won the first round comfortably before getting carried away in the second and chasing the finish. I doubt she does that again and eventually the leg kicks and power punches will add up and the GOAT will reclaim her throne with a finish to set up a trilogy. PICK – Amanda Nunes via Knockout, Round 3
After a three year absence the UFC returns to London and the O2 Arena for a huge UFC London fight card, headlined by heavyweights Alexander Volkov and Tom Aspinall.
A stacked card will see the two heavyweights competing to get title contention with a win, while we’ll also see the likes of Arnold Allen take on Dan Hooker, Paddy Pimblett makes his UK return while Jack Shore, Nathaniel Wood and Muhammad Mokaev also compete too.
Jack Shore (15-0) vs Timur Valiev (18-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
Arguably the fight of the night, so no idea why this is all the way down the card like this. Shore is an undefeated talent with a perfect 15-0 record, earning a dominant decision win over Liudvik Sholinian at UFC Vegas 36 most recently while Valiev earned a mightily impressive win over Raoni Barcelos at UFC Vegas 30 in his most recent outing to make it eight wins in his last nine bouts.
Shore is a technical kickboxer with some solid top game too with excellent jiu-jitsu skills too, while Valiev is a speedy striker who has really strong wrestling skills too and has fought a better level of competition. This is an incredibly close match up stylistically and in terms of their current level and could really go either way.
Valiev has the speed edge on the feet and his wrestling is usually good enough to dictate where the bout goes, but Shore will pressure him hard and if he gets on top the likelihood is the round ends with a finish or with him still in that position. Valiev has shown an ability to get KO’d in the past and while Shore doesn’t have that one-punch power himself, the ground-and-pound game will come in handy to secure him a late finish. PICK – Jack Shore via Knockout, Round 3
Nikita Krylov (27-8) vs Paul Craig (15-4-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A big light heavyweight banger up next as ‘BearJew’ makes a return to the octagon. Krylov has alternated defeats and losses in the UFC with losses against Jan Blachowicz, Glover Teixeira and Magomed Ankalaev most recently at UFC Vegas 20 while he earned wins against Ovince St Preux and Johnny Walker. Craig hasn’t fought since UFC 263, where he smashes Jamahal Hill and got a nasty TKO after pulling guard and dislocating his elbow.
Krylov is a solid offensive fighter with good kickboxing skills, good power in his hands and a decent ground game too. Craig on the other hand is a highly-skilled Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and while he has powerful striking, his home is on the mat. Krylov will want to keep this fight standing as much as possible, but Craig should look to bring it down quickly.
On the feet, Krylov is the more crisp striker and he has got 15 submission wins in his career from the top position but he’s also been defeated five times via tap out. Craig will likely get clipped on the feet, pull guard and eventually work his way to an armbar for yet another brilliant submission win.. PICK – Paul Craig via Submission, Round 2
Shamil Abdurakhimov (20-6) vs Sergei Pavlovich (14-1) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Heavyweights step up to the plate in this prelim bout between a veteran and a prospect among the big men. Abdurakhimov returned after two-years away to get stomped by Chris Daukaus at UFC 266 last time out, while Pavlovich is on a two-fight win streak but hasn’t fought since October 2019.
‘Abrek’ is a grinding wrestler, with a great sambo background and dominant top game looking to wear on his opponents on the mat. Pavlovich on the other hand is a heavy-handed striker with tremendous power, but some takedown defence issues make this a hard fight to call. Abdurakhimov is happy to take a punch or three to close the distance and get hold of his opponent, but those punches could see the end of the night early on.
Pavlovich’s path to victory is clear; avoid takedowns and strike with speed and power. If he can keep this on the feet then I expect him to land enough clean shots to end this one early and while Abdurakhimov will try hard for the takedown I think he gets dropped on the way in before a quick finish. PICK – Sergei Pavlovich via Knockout, Round 1
Mike Grundy (12-3) vs Makwan Amirkhani (16-7) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A fun featherweight scrap rounds off the prelims section of the card between two European fighters. Grundy is on a two-fight losing streak, dropping decisions against Movsar Evloev and then most recently Lando Vannatta at UFC 262. Amirkhani on the other hand has lost each of his last three, dropping decisions against Edson Barboza and Kamuela Kirk before getting KO’d by Lerone Murphy at UFC 267 most recently.
Grundy is a freestyle wrestler, who looks to use pressure and a big right hand on the feet to set up his takedowns. Amirkhani is a brilliant wrestler also, with excellent submission skills but just about two rounds of cardio in the bank. If it goes to the ground, it’s all about how long they’re there for and who’s on top.
If Amirkhani is on top, then I expect him to be able to work the position before finding a neck or an arm and getting a submission win. If Grundy is on top he will look to wear on Amirkhani and start using big ground and pound on the mat to do damage. With their skills matched up, I’m going to go with the cardio and home crowd advantage of Grundy to drag him through and earn him the victory. PICK – Mike Grundy via Decision