The UFC returns to the Apex centre in Las Vegas after a stunning pay-per-view card last weekend for two heavyweight scrappers as Derrick Lewis takes on Serghei Spivac in the main event.
The number seven and number 12 ranked big men in the UFC go head-to-head in this headline clash, with both guys knowing a win puts them on track to get into title contention during 2023.
It’s a fun card with a few debuts and some sleeper fights, so be sure not to miss it.
Last weekend at UFC 281 we went 10/14 with one perfect pick to move to 776/1202 (64.56%) with 320 perfect picks (41.24%). You can see our full picks history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here, and after starting with the early prelims section of the card and moving on to the rest of our prelims picks, here are our main card picks.
Jack Della Maddalena (12-2) vs Danny Roberts (18-6) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Potentially the fight of the night opens up the main card here. Maddalena is on a 12-fight win streak after losing his first two professional bouts, earning first-round knockouts over Pete Rodriguez (UFC 270) and Ramazan Emeev (UFC 275) to date in the UFC. Roberts returned from a two-year layoff to defeat Emeev back in October 2021, but lost to Francisco Trinaldo at UFC 274 via decision last time out.
Maddalena is a tremendous boxer with unbelievable power in his hands, earning 11 finishes in his last 12 fights which were all victories. He’s got an excellent kicking game too, to go with a pressure that exhausts his opponents. Roberts is a decent kickboxer himself too, but he has a lack of volume. He usually makes up for that with his decent wrestling game though, and his grappling is decent too earning him five tap out wins in the past.
But this seems like a bit of a set up fight for Maddalena. Roberts is a fighter who always brings it, and his name is probably bigger than his abilities. Maddalena is going to push forward, land lots of power shots and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest to see him just melt Roberts as the fight goes on before landing a nasty shot to earn the win.
PICK – Jack Della Maddalena via Knockout, Round 2
Andre Fialho (16-5) vs Muslim Salikhov (18-3) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Another really exciting welterweight scrap up next between two guys who love to strike. Fialho is 2-2 in the UFC, losing to Michel Pereira (UFC 270) before knocking out Miguel Baeza and Cameron VanCamp (UFC 274). He was KO’d himself last time out though by Jake Matthews at UFC 275. Salikhov saw a five-fight win streak snapped last time out against Li Jingliang, with “The Leech” KO’ing him with strikes in the second round.
Fialho is a powerful boxer, who walks forward like Terminator and lands lots of power shots while being willing to take some of his own too. There is a decent kicking game in him too, but his game leans quite heavily on his boxing skills. Salikhov is a sambo world champion, with phenomenal kung-fu skills including spinning attacks and distance management. He lacks real power in those strikes though, without a KO win since 2019.
This is a battle of technique vs power, but on this occasion I expect power to come out on top. Fialho isn’t short of technique and after Salikhov got put out last time out, he’ll want to test the chin. Fialho is likely to come forward and close the distance to limit the kicks of Salikhov and eventually I expect him to back him against the cage and start landing big shots before the referee steps in.
PICK – Andre Fialho via Knockout, Round 2
Chase Sherman (16-10) vs Waldo Cortes-Acosta (8-0) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Big boys step up to the plate once again in this one in an interesting fight. Sherman has lost four of his last five, snapping a losing streak by claiming a KO win over Jared Vanderaa most recently back in July. Cortes-Acosta made his UFC debut just a couple of weeks ago, beating Vanderaa too via unanimous decision.
Both of these guys are your typical heavyweight scrappers, with Sherman having a decent leg kick to go with his overhand right while Cortes-Acosta is simply a boxer in an MMA cage. Sherman is also good with his elbows and his cardio is decent, but Cortes-Acosta definitely has the power edge here.
Neither of these guys are tearing up any trees in the UFC any time soon, but the low kicks are almost certainly going to play a big part here. Cortes-Acosta has good combinations with his striking and decent body work, but the experience of Sherman added on to those leg kicks means he should claim the win.
PICK – Chase Sherman via Decision
Kennedy Nzechukwu (10-3) vs Ion Cutelaba (16-8-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
Fun light heavyweight scrap up next in the co-main event. Nzechukwu is 2-2 in his last four with knockout wins over Danilo Marques and Karl Roberson either side of defeats to Da Un Jung and Nicolae Negemereanu. Cutelaba has just one win in his last six (1-4-1), losing each of his last two via submission to Ryan Spann and Johnny Walker most recently.
Nzechukwu is a pressure fighter with good Muay-Thai skills in the clinch and big power in his hands, but his takedown defence leaves plenty to be desired and is a big hole in his game. Cutelaba alternatively is a seriously impressive wrestler with scary power in his hands, but absolutely no fight IQ whatsoever and a lack of ability to pace himself while going in with crazy aggression. Both of these fighters have flaws where the other has strengths, which makes this a hard fight to pick.
Cutelaba has just struggled once too many in fights that he’s supposed to win for me to pick him. He has the big advantage in wrestling for sure, but his will to always go at 100 mph means if he doesn’t get it done early then he will burn out. Nzechukwu may not be able to cope with the early blitz, but his ability to be able to push a pace and retain his power late leads me to think he survives that initial blast from “Hulk” and puts him away later in the bout with combinations against the cage.
PICK – Kennedy Nzechukwu via Knockout, Round 3
Derrick Lewis (26-10) vs Serghei Spivac (15-3) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
Heavyweights step up in the main event of this one as they look to put together a run for a potential title run in 2023. Lewis has lost three of his last four, getting KO’d by Ciryl Gane (UFC 265), Tai Tuivasa (UFC 271) and Sergei Pavlovich (UFC 277) with a KO win of his own against Chris Daukaus coming in the middle of that. Spivac on the other hand has won his last two after defeat to Tom Aspinall, KO’ing Greg Hardy and UFC 272 before a KO win against Augusto Sakai most recently in August.
Lewis is the scariest puncher in UFC history, with the record for the most knockout wins in the organisation’s history. He has also got much improved takedown defence in recent years, although his chin isn’t great and his cardio still lets him down at times. Spivac is a grappler who looks to wrestle and use his size to wear on his opponents although his striking has been improving in recent bouts, but he will almost certainly reset to default here.
The blueprint to beat Lewis has been there for years – take him down or overwhelm him with volume. Spivac is capable of doing both of those things, but he’s never fought someone who can put his lights out with one punch like Lewis can. He will know that Spivac wants to take him down and much like when he fought Curtis Blaydes, he will be loading up that uppercut. He’s never fought a five-round bout before and while I wouldn’t be surprised to see Spivac just wrestle and grapple for 25 minutes, I think Lewis gets back in the win column with a nasty knockout early on.
PICK – Derrick Lewis via Knockout, Round 2