The UFC returns to the O2 Arena in London, England for a huge trilogy bout for the undisputed welterweight title as Leon Edwards defends his title for the first time against Kamaru Usman.
Edwards earned a stunning fifth round comeback win in their fight back in August, and now they run it back in a huge main event.
They’ll be anchored by 14 fights, including the co-main event between lightweight contenders Justin Gaethje and Rafael Fiziev, as well as local stars like Jack Shore moving up to featherweight, Muhammad Mokaev, Lerone Murphy and Christian Duncan making his UFC debut.
Last time out at UFC Las Vegas we got the main event spot on to improve our percentages, and the last numbered card saw us go 12/14 with six perfect picks to move to 849/1313 (64.66%) with 348 perfect picks (40.99%). You can see our full pick history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here and after starting with the early prelims here and then moving on to the rest of the prelims here, we move on to the main card now.
Marvin Vettori (18-6-1) vs Roman Dolidze (12-1) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
Interesting middleweight scrap between two guys looking to get into title contention at some point in 2023. Vettori has lost two of his last three fights, dropping decisions against Israel Adesanya and Robert Whittaker, with a dominant win over Paulo Costa in the middle of them. Dolidze has gone on a run since switching to middleweight and is on a four-fight win streak with KO’s in each of his last three against Kyle Daukaus, Phil Hawes and Jack Hermansson.
Vettori is the ultimate grinder when it comes to wrestle-boxing, with a crazy gas tank and excellent takedowns to go with great pressure and some powerful striking on the feet. Dolidze is also a grappler who has got excellent wrestling, but he’s recently discovered new power in his hands and is starting to fall in love with his striking. Realistically though, that striking is the main reason he could win this.
Dolidze has the power to put anyone out, but Vettori has got one of the better chins in the division and he’s one of the bigger middleweights in the division too. Expect pressure to force Dolidze backwards and big blitzes against the cage while mixing in takedowns and top control to earn a big decision win and keep his title aspirations alive.
PICK – Marvin Vettori via Decision
Jennifer Maia (20-9-1) vs Casey O’Neill (9-0) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
A fun flyweight fight up next for the women, where a new contender could be created. Maia has lost three of her last five, dropping decisions to Valentina Shevchenko, Katlyn Chookagian and Manon Fiorot while she claimed wins over Jessica Eye and most recently Maryna Moroz. O’Neill is undefeated and shining in the UFC, with a win over Roxanne Modafferi over a year ago last time out via decision which ended a four-fight finishing streak.
Maia is a a grappler, living up to the surname despite no relation to Demian, with excellent jiu-jitsu skills to go with some decent boxing. O’Neill on the other hand is a bit of a phenom with solid wrestling to go with powerful kickboxing skills and a rare finishing instinct among female fighters. If she wants to win this, her best and safest bet is to be on top controlling the position because Maia does have power.
She’ll be severely tested in this fight and this is the best opponent she has had, but O’Neill is a future champion in my eyes and I can see her overcoming this test in an impressive fashion on the scorecards.
PICK – Casey O’Neill via Decision
Gunnar Nelson (18-5-1) vs Bryan Barbarena (18-9) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A fan-friendly scrap next in the welterweight division. Nelson has lost two of his last three fights, but they’ve come over a span of four years, with losses to Leon Edwards and Gilbert Burns in 2019 before a return to the win column last time out against Takashi Sato in 2022. Barbarena was on a three-fight win streak including a TKO win against Robbie Lawler before he ran into Rafael Dos Anjos last time out and got submitted back in December.
Nelson is a fantastic grappler with a karate-like style when it comes to striking. His jiu-jitsu is fantastic and his wrestling to get it there is more than good enough too, while his striking is powerful and accurate. Barbarena on the other hand is an absolute brawler with fantastic power in his boxing combinations, while he is also capable of wrestling himself into dominant top positions too. If he is to be successful here though, he will want this fight on the feet.
On the ground Nelson has a huge advantage and he will be trying to get it there at all costs. As for Barbarena, if he can defend the takedown attempts and make it ugly (like he usually does) then the pick has to be “Bam Bam” to land clean enough to score a knockout win with his gas tank never letting him down either.
PICK – Bryan Barbarena via Knockout, Round 2
Justin Gaethje (23-4) vs Rafael Fiziev (12-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The fight of the night and potentially the fight of the year stylistically in the co-main event. Justin Gaethje comes into this one off the back of a defeat in his title fight to Charles Oliveira, which he earned with a stunning win over Michael Chandler prior to that. Fiziev on the other hand is on a tear in the lightweight division, on a six-fight win streak including stoppage wins over Brad Riddell and Rafael Dos Anjos most recently.
Gaethje is one of the most heavy-handed brawlers in the history of the UFC, with incredible power in his boxing combinations and a willingness to take one to give one with great trust in his chin. He also has some of the most gruesome leg kicks in the business. Fiziev is a stunning striker himself, with brilliant Muay-Thai combinations and clinch work to go with nasty body kicks and brilliant power in his boxing too. This one won’t go the distance and it’s all about who can get hit the least hard. Simple, because there is no chance of Gaethje using his excellent wrestling skills as he just doesn’t care for it.
Fiziev’s quality of strikes and range management is fantastic, but Gaethje pushes a crazy pace and just beats everyone up if they don’t wrestle him to the mat. He will close the distance, land heavy punches and no doubt he will hurt Fiziev at some point. Fiziev is just as capable of countering with his great speed and accuracy, but the big-fight experience and one-punch power of Gaethje leans me to go in his favour.
PICK – Justin Gaethje via Knockout, Round 2
Leon Edwards (20-3) vs Kamaru Usman (20-2) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
An incredible main event will decide the winner of this trilogy bout and the undisputed welterweight champion of the world. Edwards is on an 11-fight undefeated streak, which culminated with a crazy head-kick knockout win over Usman to win the title. Usman was on a 19-fight win streak before that bout, and cemented himself as one of the greatest of all-time. Both of these men’s last loss was to each other.
Edwards is a really complete fighter who prefers to lead with the striking, as a world-class kickboxer with good knockout power. He’s also a solid grappler too, as he showed in their last fight against each other when he controlled the first-round on the mat. Usman is a dominant wrestler with fantastic control and technique in the grappling, but he’s also evolved his striking game to become a genuine knockout threat too. This is a crazy fight.
Usman largely controlled the fight the last time out and was 3-1 up heading into the fifth round, which he was also winning before the head-kick. But after getting stopped like that, things can change. Edwards’ confidence is sky high and he showed he is capable of hanging with Usman in the grappling as well as the striking. There is no altitude problems this time around which is what he credited to his cardio issues either, but it’s so hard to pick against Usman when it’s so evident that he can control where this fight goes with his wrestling.
I really want Edwards to get it done, but I can’t pick against Usman with the way the last fight went up until that haymaker kick with seconds to go.
PICK – Kamaru Usman via Decision